School improvement funding has undergone a major overhaul, courtesy of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) education law. The changes, which will be rolled out in the fall of 2017, are expected to bring greater flexibility to states and districts as they strive to turnaround low-performing schools. But, the modifications also have funding implications that impact schools and providers alike.
Let’s start with a quick re-cap. Previously, funds for school improvement were awarded via formula to states as a separate pool of funds called the School Improvement Grants (SIG), under a sub-set of Title I called Section 1003(g). Each state then distributed the SIG funds to the lowest-performing schools through a competitive process. But SIG schools had to agree to use the funds to implement one of several specific intervention models. And, there was a cap on the amount of funding a single district could receive—regardless of how many low-performing schools were within its borders.
Now, under ESSA, school improvement no longer has its own separate funding authorization. Instead, states are required to reserve 7% of their general Title I funds for school improvement activities. Furthermore, the federally-prescribed intervention models are no longer mandated, giving states and districts the flexibility to work together to implement programs that meet the unique needs of each low-performing school. Finally, the annual per-district funding cap is gone.
These changes are important to follow because the sum of school improvement funding in the United States each year is over $1 billion—a sizeable pot of money.
More Flexibility in Methods & More Funding for Lowest-Performing Districts
Under ESSA, each state will determine how to competitively dole out its share of funds—and the parameters around how those funds will be used. Expect to see wide variations in this process from state to state.
Also, because there is no longer a cap on the amount of funding that can be awarded to school districts, expect to see increases in school improvement funding in districts with high numbers of low-performing schools. This will be a state-by-state decision, but could significantly impact school improvement distributions in many regions.
Listed below are examples of how several states are rolling out new school improvement plans.
Nevada: More Districts and Vendors Implementing Improvement Activities
In Nevada, the ESSA-related shift means more districts will receive improvement funds and more vendors will participate in improvement activities. Nevada has more than doubled the number of districts receiving funding for school improvement activities. In the previous SIG funding cycle, only five districts received funds. But starting in the summer of 2017, there are 11 districts that have been awarded funds through a competitive grant cycle for school improvement. During the application process, the state also held match-making events to pair vetted non-profit organizations with districts. In the past, one sole nonprofit worked with all five Nevada school improvement districts. Now, there are 10 providers working with various districts.
New York: Focus on Tried-and-true Strategies & Diversity
New York intends to identify a select number of school-improvement strategies to offer to low-performing schools. Data from the state’s current work with the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative is expected to influence the chosen strategies. The state has also committed to using a portion of its Title I school improvement funds on activities that increase diversity and reduce racial/ethnic and socio-economic isolation in schools.
Washington: Formula Distribution & Flexible Interventions
As outlined in the state’s draft ESSA plan, Washington will distribute school improvement funds via formula to schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support. The intent is to offer funding to implement interventions to meet the unique needs and characteristics of each school.
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