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Every Student Succeeds Act

Give ESSA’s Block Grant More Money, Long List of Groups Tells Congress

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 18, 2016 2 min read
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The Afterschool Alliance. The League of American Orchestras. The National Science Teachers Association. Wica Agli. Those are just a few of the education advocates and other organizations asking Congress to beef up funding for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which are part of Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Through ESSA, a variety of federal programs dealing with student health and safety, arts education, school counseling, and other issues were rolled into a big block grant for districts. ESSA authorizes about $1.5 billion a year in federal spending for these “academic support and enrichment grants.” But President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget proposal only seeks $500 million for the block grant.

A week ago, members of Congress expressed frustration to John B. King Jr., who is now secretary of education. They said Obama’s budget shortchanged the block grant. King responded that the president’s budget actually represented an increase for the programs that were rolled into the block grant, and that in any case, opportunities for new spending in the budget were limited.

Now a lengthy list of organizations, including 75 national and regional organizations of various kinds, are sending members of the relevant House and Senate appropriations subcommittees a very similar message to the one lawmakers gave King. They say:

“We believe that the President’s FY17 budget request is grossly inadequate. Specifically, the President’s budget proposes to fund this program at $500 million, which is less than one-third the authorized funding level to which Congress and the President agreed less than 3 months ago. This would have devastating consequences in all schools districts.”

The groups go on to say that Obama’s funding proposals for the block grant “will not allow states and districts to make meaningful investments in a range of programs that, when combined, improve conditions for learning and help students receive a well-rounded education.” And schools would be forced into making unhelpful tradeoffs, they argue, by picking between school counseling services and Advanced Placement courses, for example.

What’s more, like the lawmakers, the groups are unhappy that the administration wants to distribute the money for the block grant competitively. Earlier this month at the hearing, members of Congress said that goes against what they wanted in ESSA. The lawmakers say they want the money to go out by formula.

Other notable groups to sign on to the March 17 letter include ASCD, the College Board, and the STEM Education Coalition.

Below you can read the full Senate version of the letter, which was sent to Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the lawmakers who oversee the Senate committee that deals with education spending:

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