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How Do Districts Plan to Use Their ESSA Block Grant Money?

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Many districts are about to get a big boost in funding for the most flexible piece of the Every Student Succeeds Act: the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, better known as Title IV of the law. The program just got a big, $700 million boost from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2018, bringing its total funding to $1.1 billion. And it could get even more money next year, because the House appropriations subcommittee in control of federal education spending is seeking $1.2 billion for the program in new legislation.

Districts can use Title IV funding for a wide range of activities that help students become safer and healthier, more well-rounded, or make better use of technology. And districts have a lot of leeway to customize Title IV to their needs. However, districts that get $30,000 or more must do a needs assessment, and spend at least 20 percent on an activity that makes students safer, and 20 percent on something that makes kids more well-rounded.

So how do districts plan to spend the money? Three education groups—AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Federal Program Administrators, and Whiteboard Advisors—surveyed districts to find out. Since May, 622 districts have responded to the survey.

Here's a breakdown of the findings so far:

A majority of the districts surveyed, 63 percent, said they wanted to spend at least a portion of their Title IV funds on making students safer, with school counseling the second-most popular choice at 43 percent:

In terms of using Title IV funding to help students become more well-rounded, districts picked STEM and social and emotional learning areas as the top two priority areas:

Sixty-one percent of districts said they were planning to spend Title IV money on positive behavioral Interventions to make students safer and healthier. Creating safe and supportive learning environments was another popular strategy:

More than half of districts surveyed, 55 percent, said they would like to use Title IV to support professional development and collaboration, in order to make education technology more effective. Districts were also interested in using these dollars for blended learning.

Most districts surveyed—76 percent—don't plan to transfer the money to other parts of ESSA, even though that's allowable under the law.

Even though Title IV just got a big increase from lawmakers, not everyone loves it. The Trump administration, for instance, has moved to zero out the program in both of its budget requests. District leaders told the surveyors that this instability influences their spending decisions.

"Districts are grateful for the additional funding, however, the instability of the funding is a huge obstruction to making meaningful, sustained and institutional progress," one respondent wrote. "Not knowing if you will have the funds from year to year means that most districts look for one shot programs. If we knew this funding was guaranteed for three to five years, then it would allow us to plan, hire staff, and find ways to institutionalize programs in terms of training, etc."

Want more on Title IV? Check out this explainer. And if you want to dive even deeper, check out an archived version of this webinar.

Image via Getty Images

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