1-aasa-logo.jpg school innovations and achievement

This document is one in a series of reports on key aspects of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) produced in a partnership between AASA, The School Superintendents Association and School Innovations & Achievement’s Cabinet Report. The full set of resources is available at aasa.org/AASAESSA.aspx.

Schoolwide plans get far more flexible under ESSA

One of the more frustrating aspects of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in terms of implementation has always been the restrictions on targeted assistance sites as opposed to the flexibility of schoolwide programs.

Targeted assistance was intended to allocate federal resources directly to struggling students, although in practice the options for delivering services were limited. Schoolwide programs offered much more discretion to serve far more students, but only if the student demographics of a site could qualify.

Thus, the former sought to assist those with disadvantages without diffusing resources. On the other hand, the latter allowed schools to leverage funds for activities to serve the entire student body but at the same time posed the possibility of de-emphasizing support for those pupils who may have needed it the most.

For years, federal rules resolved this dichotomy by setting a percentage threshold for targeted vs. schoolwide allocations. School sites with 40 percent of their students at or below federal poverty limits were permitted the discretionary spending that came with consolidating funding streams. Although this solution was neat from a regulatory standpoint, it inhibited local decision-making in planning and service delivery.

The good news is that under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the parameters have been broadened by giving state education agencies authority to grant waivers to districts to implement schoolwide programs at sites where the poverty rate is below 40 percent. The law stipulates that a state educational agency shall only grant such a waiver “after taking into account how a schoolwide program will best serve the needs of the students in the school served…in improving academic achievement and other factors.”

The Department of Education has yet to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this portion of ESSA, and we will have to wait for the regulations to know the procedural requirements for submitting a request, as well as what “other factors” state education agencies will be required to consider.

Aside from the obvious program benefits, there are accounting advantages to schoolwide programs. When funds are consolidated for schoolwide efforts, it is not necessary to track the use of each federal source in order to “identify the specific activities supported” provided the local education agency (LEA) can demonstrate that the school is meeting the intent of each grant through the implementation of the coordinated efforts in the school plan.