A new grant program in ESSA is an opportunity for afterschool STEM and more

by Anita Krishnamurthi

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new education law of the land, established a number of new, flexible funding streams that states and districts can employ to support afterschool programs.  One of these is a new program called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants Program (SSAE, Title IV Part A).  Late last month the US Department of Education released non-regulatory guidance on this part of ESSA to help states, districts and schools provide students with a more well-rounded education. ESSA authorized $1.65 billion annually for this new program, which will provide funding to every state and district to support well-rounded learning opportunities with a strong emphasis on STEM education, as well as learning technologies, and safe and healthy student programs.   Congress is debating the final funding level, which could end up somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion.   This grant program is intended to be distributed by formula to districts according to the following stipulations:

  • Ninety-five percent of the funds will flow to school districts through formula to be spent largely at their discretion, with the remaining 5% reserved for state-level activities. 
  • Every district will receive at least $10,000 through the program and those receiving more than $30,000 in federal funds under the program –  all but the smallest school districts will likely cross this threshold – must devote 20% to “well-rounded” learning activities, which includes a large variety of STEM activities.

Activities specifically authorized under ESSA and detailed in the new Department of Education guidance for these grants include the following that are helpful for afterschool STEM:

  • “Facilitating collaboration among school, afterschool program, and informal program personnel to improve the integration of programming and instruction in the identified [STEM] subjects” [Sec. 4107 (a)(3)(C)(v)]
  • “Providing hands-on learning and exposure to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and supporting the use of field-based or service learning to enhance the students’ understanding of the STEM subjects” [Sec. 4107 (a)(3)(C)(iii)]
  • “Supporting the participation of low-income students in nonprofit competitions related to STEM subjects (such as robotics, science research, invention, mathematics, computer science, and technology competitions)” [Sec. 4107 (a)(3)(C)(ii)]
  • “Activities and programs to support student access to, and success in, a variety of well-rounded education experiences” [Sec. 4107 (a)(3)(J)]

The guidance issued last month also provides specific program examples that will help school districts and local communities better navigate these opportunities included in the law.

Additionally, afterschool programs may see avenues for partnership with schools and districts around implementing programs that support a healthy, active lifestyle (nutritional and physical education) as well as social emotional learning (SEL) [ESEA section 4107(a)(3)(J)]. A district may use Title IV Part A funds for activities in both of these areas, including interventions that build resilience, self-control, empathy, persistence, and other social and behavioral skills. According to the Department’s guidance, extensive research, as well as educators’ own experiences, shows that school-based SEL programs play an important role in fostering healthy relationships and increasing academic and career success. Afterschool programs with a record of successfully engaging students in hands-on experiential learning that reinforces social and emotional skills or healthy eating and physical activity could be valuable partners to schools seeking to incorporate these areas into their school environment.

While the bulk of the money (95%) goes to districts, the state will require applications from the districts for this funding and can thus influence how the districts spend their funds.  States can offer matching grants to districts to advance particular issues, such as afterschool STEM.  Districts can also collaborate and apply as a consortium in order to receive a larger pot of money.  Finally, it is very important to recognize that districts do not have to distribute the money equally to all schools in the district and can concentrate on just those schools that have the highest need.  Districts that receive an allocation of $30,000 or more are required to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment at least every three years. 

Thus, there are many opportunities for afterschool providers and advocates to work with state and district education leaders to help shape the ESSA implementation plans and applications.  Call upon state and district leaders to prioritize STEM, afterschool, and informal learning activities in their applications for Title IV Part A funds.  Urge your state to utilize the portion of funds from the Title IV Part A program that they receive for state-wide activities to prioritize afterschool and informal STEM education activities.   For example, states can propose matching district funds with state funds for certain types of activities like STEM programming. 

  • Every district must submit a proposal to their state education authority describing how they intend to use the funds and may partner with any non-profit organizations with a “demonstrated record of success” on any proposed activities. 

Call upon your state education authority to propagate guidance on how districts can apply for Title IV Part A funding that includes specific examples of ways to use these federal funds that would promote afterschool and informal STEM learning.

  • Every district receiving more than $30,000 in federal funding through the program is required to develop its application in consultation with community-based organizations, instructional support personnel, and a wide variety of other education partners. 

Offer your assistance to district and state leaders as a partner in developing their applications for Title IV Part A funding.You can also offer to bring other community-based organizations to the table.

  • While STEM activities do not receive an explicit preference under the law, every district receiving more than $30,000 in federal funding is also required to conduct a needs assessment that shows how their proposed activities are aligned with the workforce needs of their community.

Afterschool programs can highlight their activities that address STEM education-related needs.Afterschool providers could also potentially distinguish themselves by demonstrating how they integrate learning across STEM and other subjects, such as school health, arts, and the environment.

You can see the full language of the Every Student Succeeds Act here and the non-regulatory guidance released by the U.S. Dept. of Education here.

© 2013 Afterschool Alliance