The Quagmire Surrounding ‘Supplement Not Supplant’

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 11, 2008 2 min read
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Yesterday, in a Webinar intended to clarify guidance on the “supplement-not-supplant” provision of Title III, U.S. Department of Education staff relayed four questions that school districts can use to determine if they are spending Title III funds appropriately. The Oct. 2 guidance for the section of the No Child Left Behind Act that authorizes funds for English-language-acquisition programs reiterates a provision of the law that says funds for English-language learners may not be used to replace money from local, state, or federal sources that would otherwise be used for this group of students.

The four questions, in the wording of Ron Petracca, of the Department’s office of the general counsel, are:

What is the instructional program/service provided to all students?
What does the [school district] do to meet Lau requirements [arising from the 1974 Lau v. Nichols U.S. Supreme Court case]?
What services are the [school district] required by other federal, state, and local laws or regulations to provide?
Was the program/service previously provided with state, local, and federal funds?

Mr. Petracca and others explained that money from Title III can be spent only on programs or services that go “above and beyond” what is already provided to all students; what is provided to meet federal requirements that came out of Lau v. Nichols; what is required by local, state, and federal laws; and what services have previously been provided to English-language learners in a school district.

That last part, that school districts can’t use Title III funds for something that was previously being provided to ELLs, was new to me. I didn’t hear it mentioned, for example, at the session at the recent LEP Partnership meeting where Education Department staff tried to clarify the guidance. The staff did say yesterday that school districts have a bit of leniency on that last point, if they can show that a service provided previously to ELLs could not be continued for budgetary reasons without the use of Title III funds.

Mr. Petracca and other Education Department staff tried to answer a number of questions from Webinar listeners, such as whether the money can be used to pay for an additional English-as-a-second-language teacher in a school or if it can be used to hire teachers to change the student-teacher ratio in the classroom. But they weren’t able to immediately answer “yes” or “no” to some questions because the inquiries didn’t include enough information for the Education Department staff to make a determination.

Over and over, the Education Department staff responded to inquiries by returning to the four questions they laid out at the outset. Mr. Petracca noted that the four questions “represent the [Education] Department’s current thinking on these topics.”

About 230 people from across the country tuned in to the Webinar. I bet I wasn’t the only listener who was thinking, “Might the thinking of the Education Department change with a new administration?”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.