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New Budget Delays ESSA's Impact on Formula Grants for One Year

A lot of the coverage of the federal fiscal 2016 budget approved last week dealt with how much, and how much more, various K-12 programs will get. But one thing you may have missed about the budget deal is how it impacts the timeline for the transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act—I mentioned it briefly in my blog post on the new budget last week, but let's explore it a bit further.

On page 981 of the brand-new budget is this sentence: "[F]unds provided in this Act for non-competitive formula grant programs authorized by the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] for use during academic year 2016-2017 shall be administered in accordance with the ESEA as in effect on the day before the date of enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act."

In plain English, that means the administration of grant programs with formulas set by Congress won't be changed for the upcoming school year, even though ESSA, the latest revision of the ESEA, is now law.

But wait: You may recall that ESSA itself says is impact on non-competitive formula grants would take effect in July 2016. (See page eight of the law.) That's essentially a year before the new budget says those change would kick in.

So what's the actual timeline? The budget language I quoted above says that it is effective "notwithstanding section 5(b) of the Every Student Succeeds Act." That's the section on page eight I linked to in the preceding paragraph. 

The U.S. Department of Education said that according to its understanding, the budget's impact on the administration of formula grants under ESSA is consistent with implementation of ESSA starting, for the most part, in the 2017-18 school year. So that's the first school year when formula-based grants will be administered under ESSA. 

What's an example of such a funding change in ESSA? Under the previous authorization of the ESEA, a school in which more than 40 percent of students come from low-income backgrounds can use Title I funds for schoolwide programs. Under ESSA, a state is permitted to grant a school a waiver from that 40 percent threshold, after considering how much a proposed use of those funds would impact student achievement. 

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