opinion

5 things K-12 Purchasers Need to Know About ESSA Now

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Passed last December, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a sweeping piece of legislation that aims to improve student outcomes with new programs, rules, and funding. Once finalized by Congress, it authorizes $24.9 billion annually in federal education spending for 2016-17, ESSA’s transition year. But a recent survey found that only 55% of superintendents and 41% of principals consider themselves familiar with the new laws. It is critical that K-12 purchasing professionals understand ESSA and its implications in time to react and implement effectively moving into the 2017-18 school year.

5 key takeaways for purchasing

1. Plan for flexible funding sources and relaxed rules.

Although not every state is going to see a windfall of new money, ESSA offers many states the opportunity for new funding sources and more discretion at state and local levels, especially for Title I and Title IV funding. States now have the ability to offer Title I funding based on “how a schoolwide program will best serve the needs of the students…in improving academic achievement and other factors” to help educators better target discrete student populations, according to Ed Week. Previously, that money was reserved expressedly for schools with 40 percent low-income enrollment. Notably, Title I funding can now be freely and strategically allocated without earmarking it for core or supplemental services. And Title IV, Part A (21st Century Schools, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants) allocates $1.65 billion for a wide range of programs from drug and violence prevention to counseling to new tech.

The Takeaway: New pools of money mean new opportunities for programs and services. For instance, under ESSA, at least 20 percent of a district’s Title IV, Part A block grants go towards “well-rounded educational opportunities,” up to 60 percent to “activities to support the effective use of technology,” and up to 15 percent for technology infrastructure. So, plan to invest in professional learning tools, devices, and content—more and more ways to support blended learning projects.

2. Consider community strategy and impacts.

ESSA prioritizes community support in schools, such as medical and dental screening, neighborhood outreach, career counseling, and early childhood education. Under Title IV, over $1 billion is planned for community learning centers and $10 million goes towards family engagement. And throughout the law, funding is earmarked for underserved groups like the homeless, ELLs and immigrant students, Native Americans and those facing persistent delinquency.

The Takeaway: Thoughtfully seek place-based interventions developed by local leaders and educators–purchases that consider the community being served. We are likely to see more public and private partnerships through community school models and other local initiatives in the near future. The caveat: extensive, effective sharing of data. As such, K-12 purchasers should plan for a heightened focus on data privacy and security, as well as a need for detailed, timely reporting. When leveraging multiple stakeholders to support students, systems of data management, privacy and security are key.

3. Ask forgiveness, not permission, to innovate.

Shifts under ESSA are meant to provide greater opportunity for new strategic partnerships. For instance, ESSA’s Education in Research Program (EIP) will be a successor to the Obama Administration's Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which has pumped $1.3 billion into education innovation since 2009. Allocations are still offered to quickly develop, validate, and scale innovative programs and services in schools and districts. But under EIP, these funds are available for nonprofit and for-profit partners. That means more competition for K-12 contracts, and, hopefully, better student outcomes. Bev Purdue, former Governor of North Carolina, sees the relaxed rules as a broad opportunity for bold innovation: “When you’re dealing with something as new and transformational as ESSA, perhaps in the initial blush it's much easier and more exciting to ask forgiveness rather than permission.”

The Takeaway: Look for every opportunity to support your tech infrastructure, seek new partnerships to build STEM opportunities, and prioritize college and career readiness.

4. Expect core assessment requirements to stay the same.

Though some suggest students will see less testing overall, it is largely left to states to decide if they will administer a single summative assessment or multiple state-wide interim assessments during the academic year. More flexible testing and accountability measures to support college and career readiness can be expected. As with No Child Left Behind, states must still administer mathematics and ELA assessments every year in grades 3-8 and at some point in grades 9-12. In science, an assessment must be given at least once in each grade span (grades 3-5, 6-9, 10-12).

The Takeaway: Assessment spending, estimated at around $1.7 billion a year, accounts for a quarter of a percent of the total K-12 spending in the United States. This number is not going to shrink. Take this as an opportunity for new partnerships, supplemental intrastate assessments and/or more tech-enabled assessments.

5. Expect rapid turnover on purchases, especially when it comes to intervention.

ESSA’s intervention system is designed to make states, districts, and schools more nimble. At the start of school year 2017-18, and at least once every three years, states will be required to target the lowest performing five percent of all schools and all public high schools with a graduation rate of 67 percent or less for new interventions.To support these interventions, state education agencies must reserve seven percent of their Title I allocation for grants to eligible districts, with an optional three percent set aside to direct student services, like credit recovery and tutoring.

Meanwhile, school leaders will be on constant cycles to evaluate current practices, often needing to procure new tools and professional development to reach their goals. With this in mind, take care to do due diligence researching and adapting products and services to address your school’s needs.

The Takeaway: The time to plan is now. The Department of Education will publish its final Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register at the end of June 2016.That allows for 60 days of public comment, but in all likelihood most pertinent takeaways will already be set for the 2017-18 schools year. That means competitive grant programs like Title II Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund Grants will transition to ESSA rules in October, and programs that are not “substantially similar” to programs under the new law, like School Improvement Grants (SIG) will only get FY2016 funding.

Purchasers need to identify disappearing funds, plan around modified funds, and seize new opportunities to run future-ready schools. Though rules and use cases are still being ironed out, purchasers cannot delay when it comes to predicting demographic shifts, evaluating infrastructure demands, and revamping systems. Early shifts toward innovative products, services, and partnerships mean better outcomes for our schools and students.

Nicole Neal (@NnealNoodle) is the CEO of Noodle Markets. She co-founded the company with John Katzman in 2015.

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