Congress Opened the Door For Truly Expanded Learning: Here’s How You Can Seize the Moment

by Jessica Donner
Executive Director of Every Hour Counts

Increased Federal Grant Funding Opens Doors for Expanded Learning Partnership Opportunities

On July 1st, states and school districts across the country can expect to see a significant funding increase heading their way under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant program.

This grant program may sound familiar. The SSAE program was established by Congress in 2015 through the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act and provides flexible block grant funding to states and districts to support a range of activities in three broad areas:

  1. Providing students with well-rounded education;
  2. Supporting health and safety of students; and
  3. Leveraging technology and digital assets for learning.

While the program was established with bipartisan Congressional support, the program struggled to get ample funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 and even found itself on the chopping block in President Trump’s last two budget proposals.

Earlier this year, however, Congress rejected the President’s budget proposal and passed a spending bill for FY 2018 that provided $1.1 billion in funding to the SSAE grant program — a $700 million (a 175% increase) over the $400 million the program received in 2017.

States and districts are now actively planning on how they will spend this money in the upcoming 2018–2019 school year.

Now is a great time for intermediaries and other community-based organizations to engage with local school districts to highlight the resources and capacity that they can bring to the table to help the district reach its goals under the program.

How much will my state and local school district receive?

State funding estimates for FY2018 can now be found on the Department of Education’s website. While district-level estimates are not available, you may be able to find this information on your State Department of Education website or your local school district’s website. The chart below gives you an idea of how this year’s increase compares to the FY2017 funding level.

How do these grants even work?

While SSAE grants are intended to be very flexible, states and districts are required to allocate funding in a certain way and spend these funds on specific areas.

SSAE grant funds flow directly to states based on their share of funds under the Title I, Part A formula (a student need-based formula that is laid out under federal law). States are then required to distribute at least 95 percent of their SSAE funds to local school districts.

While the amount of money school districts receive is based on the same needs-based formula, the program requires every school district to receive a minimum of $10,000.

Districts receiving $30,000 or more are required to submit a needs assessment to the State and spend 20% of their funds on activities within the well-rounded education area and 20% of their funds on activities within the safe and healthy students area. The remaining 60% of a district’s funds may be spent on any of the three areas. A district receiving a grant below $30,000 may allocate the money however it chooses, so long as the funding supports activities in at least one of the three areas. No matter how much SSAE money districts receive, they may not spend more than 15% on technology infrastructure.

Can districts transfer their money over to support other initiatives?

In short, yes. SSAE funds are intended to be flexible and meet the needs of the local district. By law, districts can transfer SSAE funds to a variety of different programs, and due to the severe underfunding of the program last year, many districts chose to do just that. However, because districts will have significantly more money this year, they may be open to exploring other initiatives. Intermediaries and other community-based organizations should engage districts and share how their work can help expand the impact of these dollars.

When and how should I engage our local school district?

The time is now! States and districts are actively planning how they will utilize these grant funds. Every Hour Counts has detailed an action plan on how you and your intermediary organization can engage district officials and help them achieve their goals under the SSAE program.

Step 1: Understand the SSAE Program. Do some research on how much SSAE funding your school district will receive this year and how the district has been using the funding to date (if available). Remember, if a school district receives $30,000 or more under the program, it is required to do a needs assessment. It is possible that some districts already conducted a needs assessment or applied for a grant (if the State was one of the 9 that decided to award grants competitively last year). Other districts may be actively conducting their needs assessment right now. Either way, make sure to understand where your school district is in the process. If your district has already conducted its needs assessment, it will be actively considering ways to meet those needs. If your district is currently conducting its needs assessment, this is an ideal time to engage the district on the ways your intermediary can help.

Step 2: Understand Your Local School District’s Priorities. School districts will often use federal funding to align with and support their overall district priorities. Understand your local districts broader goals and priorities. Having this information in your back pocket will help ensure that you are well informed going into your district meeting.

Step 3: Asset Map Your Intermediary’s Strengths Against the Goals of the SSAE Program and Your Local School District Priorities. Based on your research on the use of SSAE funds and your district’s priorities, develop a menu of services or supports that your intermediary could bring to the table to help advance the district’s priorities.

Step 4: Meet with Your Local School District. Find out who is helping to implement the SSAE program in your district. Reach out and request a meeting. Don’t forget to bring the menu of services that your intermediary can provide, as well as background information on the effectiveness of your program and the role you play in managing funding, improving quality, and ensuring accountability. Open the conversation with: we want to help you meet your goals; what do you need help with?

Step 5: Debrief and Follow Up. Based on your conversation, determine the appropriate follow up information to include in a thank you note and next steps. Consider whether relevant validators such as local leaders, funders or other partners with influence within the district might be a valuable part of your follow up, and if they could be helpful in further conversations to secure a district partnership.

We understand that your action plan may look different given your local school district dynamics and any pre-existing relationships your intermediary may have at the local level.

The important thing to remember is that today marks a critical window of opportunity.

States and districts are actively working to lay out their SSAE plans and explore ways to best spend these funds to reach their goals. We know that intermediaries can play a key role in helping districts achieve these goals but we must first secure a seat at the table and engage in the conversation.