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How Can States and Districts Use ESSA to Embrace Arts Education?

By Alyson Klein — November 26, 2018 3 min read
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Welcome to another installment of Answering Your ESSA Questions, in which we try to demystify the Every Student Succeeds Act. Today’s question comes from an anonymous reader.

Question: How do ESSA plans handle arts education?

Answer: States had to choose at least one indicator of school quality or student success to consider alongside test scores in gauging school performance. And at least five states decided to use the arts—either access to classes or some other indicator—to fulfill this requirement.

  • Connecticut is measuring access to arts education.
  • Georgia will consider the share of students completing a fine arts, world language, career and technical education, or advanced course.
  • Illinois is seeking to add a fine arts indicator to the mix of factors it judges schools on.
  • Maryland is gauging schools in part on whether students complete a “well-rounded curriculum.”
  • Michigan’s accountability system will look at how long students spend in arts, library, and physical education classes.

Read more in thisEducation Weekanalysis of plans.

What’s more, districts can choose to use a portion of their money from ESSA’s $1.1 billion flexible block grant for arts programs. (The money, which comes out of the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, can also go to school safety, challenging coursework, foreign language instruction, and more.) Districts that receive more than $30,000 must use at least 20 percent of that money to help students become more “well-rounded.”

Among districts who are planning to use the money for a “well-rounded education,” about 30 percent said they would like to direct it to arts education, according to a spring survey by AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Federal Program Administrators, and Whiteboard Advisors. That lags behind the share of districts interested in using the money for STEM, social and emotional learning, and college-and-career readiness.

There are other parts of the law that school districts and states can—and do—use for arts, including 21st Century Community Learning Centers (an afterschool program).

Want a much more thorough breakdown of how the arts play in ESSA plans? Grantmakers in the Arts, a non-profit organization, has a great summary of how arts education plays in each state plan. And the group has a list of who to talk in each state to help them implement their commitments. You can find it here.

Got an ESSA question? Email us at or Or tweet at us @PoliticsK12.

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