Federal Education Policy and Funding: The Latest and Greatest

By Doug Mesecar

At long last, there are final appropriations for the remaining five months of the 2018 fiscal year!

fiscal year 2018 federal education budgetAfter multiple attempts at finalizing spending levels, Congress finally passed an “omnibus” bill funding the government through September 30, 2018. To the surprise of many, it had a huge increase of $700 million in funding for Title IV – the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program.

Overall, for the major federal education programs, Title I gets a nice, but relatively small increase of $300 million; Title II, Part A survived the threatened termination and is level funded at ≈$2 billion; Title Ill is level funded; 21st Century Community Learning Centers gets a small bump; and IDEA get a nice increase of $275 million. There is much more and all the detail can be found here. Updated state-by-state estimates of FY 2018 funding are now available from the U.S. Department of Education.

Let’s review Title IV, Part A: funds are distributed by formula proportional to the distribution of Title I funds. Districts that get more than $30,000 must conduct a needs assessment and submit an application to the SEA describing how they will use the funds:

  • Not less than 20% for a well-rounded education;
  • Not less than 20% for safety and health programs;
  • Up to 60% for the effective use of technology (but only 15% can be used for hardware and software expenditures).

The dramatic increase in Title IV should enable districts to significantly increase spending across the three categories – particularly education technology. An important reminder, though, is that Title IV spending needs to align with a district's Title I plan. The combined resources of Title IV and Title I can become a powerful investment in innovation and improvement.

As the Title IV funding coalition states, "Investments in education technology ensure schools have technology-proficient educators, well-equipped classrooms, sufficiently supported  administrative structures, and a curriculum optimized to take advantage of the benefits technology offers to all students — such as closing opportunity and learning gaps and providing students with essential modern workforce skills."

In fact, some districts across the country are already taking advantage of Title IV to do exactly this, and with the big increase in funding, it is likely many more will follow suit.

ESSA Approvals 

So, with this new funding, are all states ready to launch the 2018-19 school year with their new and approved ESSA plans? Four states recently had their state plans approved: Idaho, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Texas. That leaves 13 left to go (including Colorado from the first round of state submissions back in September of 2017). Texas' approval surprised some given the seemingly large policy concerns expressed by the Department in their first submission. Florida and California are likely to be the states where the last big policy battles will be fought.

The controversy over whether the plans Secretary DeVos is approving comply with the statutory text of the law continues with a recent letter from civil rights groups. The controversy is around the treatment of subgroups in: 1. summative school ratings; and 2. the identification of, and intervention in, schools identified as Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) and those identified for Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (A-TSI).

Without clear regulations on these topics, we are left with only ESSA’s statutory language, which is not crystal clear on these two issues. There is a lot of policy nuance in the inclusion of subgroups across ESSA’s provisions, but ultimately these battles will not change the status of any state approvals — Secretary DeVos is not going to un-approve a state's plan. What it does signal is a much more aggressive oversight of the Department and DeVos should there be a change in partisan control of the House or Senate.

Assessment Innovation

Three states submitted applications for the ESSA innovative assessment pilot: Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico. The assessment pilot was modeled on New Hampshire, which has led the nation in the development of competency-based assessments. In 2015, the Department granted New Hampshire permission to pilot an accountability system designed around a competency-based assessment system. 

Louisiana is trying to give more context to reading and language arts. As State Superintendent John White wrote in a recent opinion piece: "Rather than administering separate social studies and English tests at the end of the year, Louisiana schools participating in the pilot will teach short social studies and English curriculum units in tandem over the course of the year, pausing briefly after each unit to assess students' reading, writing and content knowledge." 

And Puerto Rico is revamping their entire system after Hurricane Maria. Since it's a single LEA-state, the requirements for scaling a new solution statewide are less complicated, though still onerous given all the other challenges they have on their plate. 

For more details and analysis of the long-awaited 2018 federal budget for education, listen to the recent webinar I conducted that was hosted by Agile Education Marketing. 

About the Author

Doug MesecarDoug Mesecar is Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy at IO Education. He has a diverse background having held senior operational and policy roles at leading education companies, the U.S. Department of Education, and in Congress. Reach him on Twitter @dmes.