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How Do Districts Want to Spend Flexible ESSA Money? It Depends on Where They Are.


The Every Student Succeeds Act's Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, better known as Title IV of the law, just got a huge boost, from $400 million to $1.1 billion.

So what are districts going to do with those grants?

Professional development is a big priority, according to an Education Week Research Center survey of more than 500 district leaders, conducted this spring for EdWeek Market Brief, a business intelligence service produced by the publisher of Education Week. 

Forty-one percent of district leaders surveyed said they were interested in spending the funding on professional development. Curriculum was also a big priority, with 40 percent of leaders saying they were likely to use the money that way.

And social-emotional learning and workforce preparation were other big areas of interest. Thirty-eight percent of districts would like to spend the money on social-emotional learning or college-and-career readiness.

But there are some differences in regional priorities. For instance, districts in the South are more interested in college-and-career readiness than districts elsewhere. Forty-seven percent of Southern districts say they are very likely to spend Title IV funds to help students prepare for college and careers, while just 32 percent of Midwestern and Western leaders had the same priority. In the Northeast, it was 18 percent.

Social-emotional learning was a key area of interest for Midwestern district leaders. Fifty-six percent said they were likely to use the funds this way, compared with 37 percent of Western leaders, 32 percent of Northeastern leaders, and 27 percent of leaders in the South.

Districts in the South and Midwest also put a premium on directing the federal dollars to helping students get a well-rounded education. Forty-six percent of Midwestern leaders and 45 percent of Southern leaders said they were very likely to use the money that way, as opposed to 24 percent of Western leaders, and 23 percent of those in the Northeast.

And curriculum is higher on leaders' wish lists in the South, Midwest, and Northeast than it is in the West. Forty two percent of Southern leaders, 42 percent of Midwestern leaders, and 38 percent of Northeastern leaders said they'd like to use the money that way, while just 23 percent of Western leaders wanted to direct funds towards curriculum.

The big, $700 million boost for the program means more districts are likely to receive more money. For example, in the program's first year, just 25 districts got grants of $1 million or more. That number will tick up to an estimated 125 districts, according to an analysis of federal data by the Title IV-A Coalition. An estimated 1,000 more districts will receive grants of at least $100,000, up from about 460 in the program's first year. About 2,800 districts will get grants of at least $30,000, up from just over 1,100 in the program's first year. 

Three education groups—AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Federal Program Administrators, and Whiteboard Advisors—also examined how districts are spending their Title IV money. You can find their results here.

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

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