Moving away from the no-frills, test-driven approach to education of the No Child Left Behind era, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. on Friday released guidance about new federal block grants designed to fund a more varied curriculum, a more positive school environment and a more integrated use of technology.
The newly authorized Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants are intended to provide schools the flexibility to fund programs they feel are most crucial to well-being and intellectual curiosity of their students. Created under the federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, the grant program consolidates targeted grants that were used under the previous federal education law, No Child Left Behind.
Courses such as civics, technology, music and the arts, “aren’t luxuries that are just nice to have,” King said in a statement. He added, “For me and for so many students, a wide range of possible subjects in school, powerfully and creatively taught, can be exactly what it takes to make the difference between disengagement and a lifelong passion for learning.”
The three areas identified for funding in the grants, which are also known as Title IV grants, are so broad as to encompass nearly everything a school would like to fund, from mental health counseling to an art class. The categories are: safe and healthy students, integrating technology to improve learning, and access to a “well-rounded education.”
The term ‘‘well-rounded education’’ is defined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as “courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the state or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.”
“For me and for so many students, a wide range of possible subjects in school, powerfully and creatively taught, can be exactly what it takes to make the difference between disengagement and a lifelong passion for learning,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.
The “safe and healthy students” category includes nutritional and physical education, creating systems to prevent bullying and harassment, and supporting re-entry programs for students who have been involved in the juvenile justice system. The umbrella of “well-rounded” educational opportunities also supports Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs and improving access to foreign language instruction.
Districts must prioritize schools with the “greatest needs,” according to the guidance. The grants may be used for direct services to students, personnel salaries and professional development for teachers and administrators. Professional development training should not be “stand-alone, one-day or short-term workshops,” the guidance states. Instead, the training should be “intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven and classroom-focused.”
The guidance document identified several California initiatives as examples of programs that could be funded by the block grants, likely in partnership with other grants:
- The Facing History and Ourselves program, which is used in many schools in California and across the country, was recognized for combining civics with “ethical decision making and innovative teaching strategies;”
- “Project Grow” at the Elk Grove Unified School District was cited as an example of how grant funds have been used to improve mental health resources at five schools, with a focus on the needs of children in military families.
- And Oakland Unified School District’s use of “restorative practices,” which allow students and school staff to talk through and repair rifts in their relationships, was mentioned as an effective program.
How much money California will receive in Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants remains unknown. In September, the State Board of Education noted in its agenda documents that the California Department of Education estimates the state will receive $58 million in the block grants in fiscal year 2017. That number is based on President Barack Obama’s budget request of $500 million for the block grants.
A rosier scenario is based on the authorization by Congress of up to $1.65 billion for the program in fiscal year 2017 and $1.6 billion for each fiscal year 2018 through 2020. If that is the case, California will receive $188.6 million, according to an estimate cited by Jessica Poiner, an education policy analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
But Congress has not yet passed the federal budget. For existing government programs, a “continuing resolution” keeps funding flowing until Dec. 9. No funds have yet been allocated to the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, because it is a new program.
The federal guidance notes that the dollar amount of the grants “may not be sufficient to independently fund many of these innovative activities.”