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How Can Districts and States Use ESSA to Bolster STEM and Computer Science?

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Welcome to another installment of Answering Your ESSA Questions. This week's question comes from Jillian Aicher, a Georgetown University student.

Question: Does ESSA include a designated funding stream for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) or computer science? How can districts leverage ESSA for STEM?

Answer: The Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't include a special, separate funding stream just for science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. But it does allow states to use funding from other programs to bolster those subjects.

One of the biggest opportunities may be the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, better known as Title IV of the law. The program recently got a big funding boost, from just $400 million during the 2017-18 school year, to $1.1 billion for the 2018-19 school year.

Those grants can be used for a range of purposes: school safety, music and arts education, Advance Placement course fees, counseling programs, and much more. But the list also includes activities that will help students get access to a well-rounded curriculum, including STEM and computer science education. In fact, when lawmakers have pushed for more funding for the program, they have specifically cited computer science. 

Districts that receive more than $30,000 in Title IV money need to spend at least 20 percent of the money on at least one activity that helps students become well-rounded. That could include something directed at STEM or computer science curriculum.

And there are other federal pots of money that can be used to support STEM. For instance, districts can use 21st Century Community Learning Center grants to fund after-school and summer programs that embrace STEM. They can use Title II grants for teacher quality to train STEM teachers.

What's more, the Trump administration's most recent budget request asks for $180 million for the Education Innovation and Research program, which helps school districts and states test out promising practices. The Trump team wants to focus the program exclusively on STEM. And even if Congress says no to that, the department could still make STEM a program priority.

Plus, at least a dozen states whose plans have gotten the seal of approval from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos intend to incorporate science tests into their accountability systems. Those states include Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont.

Got your own ESSA question? Today is your lucky day. Education Week is hosting a free online ESSA summit this week. You can sign up to join here.

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here's some useful information:

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