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Educators play large role in upcoming ESSA grants

By Team ISTE
June 30, 2016
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Education has had some big successes in Washington, D.C., this year. But perhaps the biggest of all is the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces No Child Left Behind.

Jon Bernstein, president of the Bernstein Strategy Group and a member of the ISTE Legislative Counsel, presented the new changes to Title IV, Section A, to an audience of mainly classroom teachers at ISTE 2016.

Title IV, A (formally known as Student Support and Academic Enrichment) is a new program that combines several previously separate efforts. The $1.65 billion in funds listed in the regulations will be divided among three buckets:

  • Technology: This bucket will account for 60 percent of the funds.  It’s set up so that every district receives $10,000 and local educational agencies (LEAs) receive $30,000.
  • Well-rounded: These funds will go to STEM, computer science, music, foreign languages, AP/IB, American history and environmental education.
  • Safe and healthy: These funds will support mental health, counseling and anti-violence efforts.

But there are caveats that affect teachers directly, including:

  • The Title IV, A grants will not cover 1:1 devices.
  • Schools that qualify for the $30,000 checks must do a needs assessment in each of the three buckets. The Department of Education provides no guidance in this area, so states will be left to determine what a needs assessment should involve.
  • There is a 50 percent overall cap on purchasing devices, equipment and software to address readiness shortfalls yet “readiness” is not defined.

Most important, districts will not see any of this money before the 2017-18 school year, and no one is likely to get all of the advertised sums. Budget wrangling in Congress has currently set the funds so low that small districts will receive only $6,000 and LEAs will receive $8,000.

With the final dollars undecided, it’s entirely possible that securing shares will become a competition at the state level. Bernstein urges teachers to advocate for larger shares for tech, collaborate with other departments to include technology in arts and music curricula, make sure parents are in the loop and empowered to get involved, and keep the pressure on Capitol Hill. 

Ready to get involved? Send a prewritten email (or write your own) to Congress to make a case for full funding of the law.