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Every Student Succeeds Act

Schools’ Top Priority for Flexible ESSA Grants Is Safer, Healthier Students

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 08, 2019 2 min read
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When district leaders are given a fair amount of discretion over federal funds, one of their main responses is that they want to focus the money on their students’ welfare.

That’s according to survey data released last week by a coalition of school business officers, superintendents, and others. The questions in the survey covered Title IV, a block grant created by the Every Student Succeeds Act that can be used for helping students become more well rounded, education technology, and school and student safety and well-being. In fact, when asked about how they were prioritizing those grants, which total $1.2 billion, 65 percent said it was “extremely important” for the money to go to student health and safety.

By contrast, 52 percent said it was “extremely important” to spend money on things like music and the arts and civics instruction to help them become better-rounded learners. And 31 percent said the same about prioritizing the Title IV aid for education technology.

A year ago, a similar poll of leaders on ESSA Title IV money found something similar: 63 percent of those surveyed said they planned to spend the grants on “safe and drug-free” schools.

So that’s how the district leaders are using their money now. But what about looking down the road a bit? The basic breakdown of priorities remained the same when they were asked about their most important ongoing expenses:

“The flexibility of the grant makes it a telling indicator for the varying needs and interests of schools today,” a summary of the survey results says.

One interesting aspect of the survey results is that when it comes to how school leaders prioritized their ed-tech spending, the most popular response didn’t involve giving hardware or software to students. In fact, the most popular answers—provided by 44 percent of those surveyed—said they want to use the technology to improve teachers’ professional development and collaboration.

It’s important to point out that many districts won’t see a ton of money from Title IV grants after it’s divvied up. However, lawmakers agreed to dramatically boost the program’s funding last year from $400 million to $1.2 billion.

The groups that conducted the survey were the National Association of Federal Program Administrators, the Association of Educational Service Agencies, the Association of School Business Officials International, Whiteboard Advisors, the Title IV-A Coalition, and AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

Read the summary of the Title IV survey, which was distributed to leaders in May.