Understanding ESSA Title IV-A: The Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants program

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Understanding ESSA Title IV-A: The Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants program

In March 2018 a budget deal was signed into law that included a significant increase to the flexible block grant program under Title IVA of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants program. Increasingly, local advocates have been tasked with educating their community about the details and uses of this program. This explainer seeks to describe the top-level details of SSAE, and guide advocates toward additional resources.

About the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants program

In December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind as the nation’s guiding federal education law. It created the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program (SSAE), under Title IVA of the law. This program combined several previously independent programs under NCLB into a single flexible block grant, supporting district activities across three broad categories:

  1. Well-rounded: Providing students with a well-rounded education including programs such as STEM and computer science, college and career counseling, arts, civics, and International Baccalaureate/Advanced Placement, health and physical education, among others.
  2. Safe and Healthy: Supporting safe and healthy students with comprehensive school mental health, drug and violence prevention, training on trauma-informed practices, and health and physical education.
  3. Technology Use: Supporting the effective use of technology that is backed by professional development, blended learning, and education technology devices.

To learn more about how the SSAE program supports well-rounded students, read up on non-regulatory guidance, and understand the opportunities for afterschool and summer learning, check out the Afterschool Snack, here.

Intended distribution and logistics

The SSAE program is a formula block grant program, with funds distributed to state education agencies (SEAs) based in ESSA Title I formula, and the districts, or local education agencies (LEAs), by the same formula. Because the Title I formula is designed to identify schools serving a high-poverty student population, when SSAE is distributed as intended, it should serve schools and districts with high populations of low-income students.

In addition to Title I formula distribution, the SSAE program include several other stipulations, including:

  • Every district will receive at least $10,000 through the SSAE program
  • Districts receiving more than $30,000 must:
    • Conduct a needs assessment at least every three years
    • Allocate their funds as follows:
      • 20 percent on well-rounded student supports
      • 20 percent on safe and healthy school activities
      • 60 percent as they choose across all three usages, with a maximum of 15 percent on purchasing education technology

A saga in funding

The SSAE program received an authorized funding level of $1.65 billion when ESSA was signed into law. In FY17, the program’s first year of funding, it was severely underfunded, receiving an appropriation of only $400 million. Because this appropriation was not sufficient to distribute funds as intended by law, accommodations were made to allow states to run competitive applications for the funds they would receive. Distribution of FY17 funds varies; some states have still not disseminated these funds to recipient districts. Read a breakdown of how states intended to use FY17 SSAE funds here.

With the passage of the FY18 spending bill in March 2018, SSAE saw a $700 million increase, bringing the appropriated funding in FY18 to $1.1 billion. While still more than $500 million below authorized spending, advocates are eager to implement SSAE by formula as intended with this increased appropriation, expanding districts’ access to these funds, and enabling true flexibility in determining how to meaningfully invest in and bolster programs that support safe and healthy students, a well-rounded academic curriculum, and an effective educational technology program. Based on Title I formula estimate, the percentage of districts that will be required to perform a Title IVA needs assessment will increase from less than 14 percent to more than 48 percent, providing a clear avenue for advocates to influence the design of their districts’ SSAE programs.

The Department of Education is charged with distributing SSAE funds to states whose planned use of funds was approved in their state ESSA plans or in a separately filed plan. Your state’s federal liaison on Title IVA within the Office of Safe and Healthy Students can be found here. At the state level, LEAs must also formally apply to their SEA for funds under this program. The timing of funds distribution is unclear; some districts have yet to receive their FY17 appropriations.

Current context and implications for advocates

Much is still unknown as to how this block grant will operate, and how data will be collected. Indeed, the systems to collect data at the federal level are still based on NCLB programs, and likely unable to provide accurate and robust details on district-level use of this new, flexible program. Given that the first year of SSAE was funded at such a low level, and a portion of state chose to administer the program by competitive award, it will be at least two years before the field has a comprehensive sense of how and to what impact SSAE funds are used. Until then, it is incumbent on advocates and school community members to collect and share anecdotes, data, and stories of how Title IVA is impacting their community.

It is important to note that while there is much enthusiasm among Title IVA advocates, there is also caution. The president’s FY19 budget request once again called for the complete elimination of this program, ensuring another impending fight to not only save but to reach full funding for SSAE. Furthermore, the March 2018 budget deal that ushered in the $700 million increase came on the heels of the Parkland school shooting tragedy. As such, much attention has been paid toward the role of IVA in supporting school safety. While roughly 20 percent of funds are filtered toward safe and healthy schools and contribute to school safety efforts, SSAE is not intended to be a comprehensive school safety program, and should not be misunderstood to solely serve this purpose.

For more details on Title IVA and how you can get involved, visit the Title IV-A Coalition: https://www.titleiva.org/.

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