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Can Districts Use ESSA Funds to Buy Crossing Guard Signs?

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Welcome to the next edition of "Answering Your ESSA Questions." Our next question comes Nick Scott, who works for an Arizona-based company that manufactures LED crossing guard signs for school districts. Scott wants to know, essentially, if districts can use their Every Student Succeeds Act dollars to purchase crossing guard signs. Scott noted that his company has evidence it can point to that these signs really work. (ESSA is all about evidence-based practices.)

The short answer: Most likely, yes.

The longer answer: If districts want to purchase these crossing guard signs, their best bet is using money from the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, aka Title IV Part A of ESSA. That's one of the much closely watched K-12 federal programs these days, in part because the money can be used for almost anything under the sun, from drama classes to counseling services.

And the program just got a whopping $700 million boost in the most recent spending bill, bringing its funding to $1.1 billion for fiscal 2018.

Broadly, Title IV dollars are supposed to be geared to improving student health and safety, making students more well-rounded, or bolstering the use of technology in learning. Crossing guard signs could fit under that safety umbrella.

But districts that want to spend their Title IV dollars this way will still have to make their case in its grant application, which is supposed to be based on a needs assessment, said David DeSchryver, a senior vice president at Whiteboard Advisors and an expert on federal grants.

"How the grantee describes the use of that investment is critical," he said. "It has to be tied to an identified need."

What's more, districts can't suddenly decide to start spending Title IV money on crossing guard signs if  they would otherwise be paid for with state or local dollars, noted Anne Hyslop, an ESSA expert who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama. That's because Title IV, like other programs in ESSA, requires districts to use federal money as extra aid, and not a replacement for state and local funding. (That's called supplement-not-supplant.) 

Are there other funding pots in ESSA that districts could use to purchase crossing guard signs? Not really. Scott was hoping districts might be able to use their school improvement money. But that's for improving academics, not safety.

Want to know more about Title IV? You're in luck! Education Week is hosting a webinar Tuesday on the topic, featuring DeSchryver and Jodi Peterson, an assistant executive director at the National Science Teachers Association. You can register here.

Want a broad overview of Title IV? We've got just the explainer you need right here.

Got an ESSA question? Email it to [email protected] or [email protected]. Or tweet at us @PoliticsK12.

Want to see what other readers are wondering? Here are links to past installments of this feature:

How Are States Handling Testing Opt-Outs Under ESSA?

Can Districts Use the SAT or ACT for School Accountability Without State OK?

Which States Are Eschewing School Grades?

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

What's Going on With Testing Audits?

What's Up With ESSA Block Grant Funding?

Is Testing the Only Way a Student Can Achieve Success Under ESSA?

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

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