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Victory! New ESEA Includes $1 Billion Ed Tech Program

News update from the ISTE Advocacy Network:

After 14 years of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the House has just passed, and the Senate is poised to approve, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which would essentially rewrite NCLB, returning a great deal of federal authority and power on educational issues to states. Should Congress approve this rewrite, President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law, hopefully by year’s end.

Although the new legislation will maintain NCLB’s testing regime, it will eliminate federal standards (adequate yearly progress) and penalties (mandated turn-around programs), and will allow states to develop their own accountability standards and responses. While leaving much to the states, it will require that states at least address and provide support to the lowest achieving students and schools.

The new bill endeavors to provide a great deal of flexibility on how states and districts spend their federal education dollars by eliminating or consolidating individual, issue-focused programs and establishing block grants. When ESSA is signed into law, as many as 50 different K-12 programs will no longer exist.

Under the new bill, there will be no specific ed tech program like Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT). Instead, ed tech has received preferred status in the new Title IV flexible block grant program, sized at $1.65 billion annually. Ed tech might have received its own program, but staff decided to fold it into Title IV when it became clear that the new ed tech program would only have been sized at $25 million to $50 million annually.

Under this flex grant, each state will receive a Title I formula-based allocation, which each state will then re-allocate by Title I formula to school districts. Each school district that receives a formula allocation above $30,000 must spend 20 percent of its grant on safe and healthy school programs (e.g., counseling, drug-free) and another 20 percent on “well-rounded” (e.g., civics, STEM, AP/IB) education programs. The remaining 60 percent can be spent on technology, blended learning and professional development (or any of the well-rounded or health/safety programs eligible for the flex grant). While not clear yet, it is possible that these funds could also be used to pay the salaries of ed tech personnel.

No more than 15 percent of a district’s dollars may be spent on devices, equipment, software and digital content. If a district receives an allocation below $30,000, it can spend its funding on any of the flex grant’s allowed activities, including technology, without worrying about the 20 percent set-asides for well-rounded and safe/healthy programs.

Financially, this puts ed tech in the position of being eligible for about $1 billion in flex grant funds, $150 million of which may be used for actual technology. This is a far cry from the $25 to $50 million that might have been available for a stand-alone program with no guarantee that such funds would even be appropriated. There is a strong likelihood this flex grant will receive appropriations in the next funding cycle (FY17).

The new bill will allow districts to spend money on homework gap solutions such as hot spots. It also includes language authorizing the Department of Education to conduct a study of the number of students unconnected or under-connected in their homes.

ISTE CEO Brian Lewis said: “ISTE entered into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization process with a critical objective: the new ESEA must contain a meaningful and fundable K-12 education technology program to complement E-Rate-funded classroom connectivity and spur a renaissance in personalized learning. The final version of ESSA, which rewrites and revamps ESEA, more than meets this goal. Within ESSA, education technology occupies a large and prominent space in the $1.65 billion Title IV flexible block grant, thereby allowing school districts to gain access to a large new funding resource that they can use for technology, digital content and related professional development.

“Further, ISTE was extremely pleased that Congress heeded our cry and included within ESSA a “homework gap” study to determine how many of our students are unconnected or under-connected in their homes. We consider ESSA a big win for ISTE on all counts and are hopeful that this monumental piece of legislation is signed into law by year’s end.”