How much has the block grant received to date?
In fiscal year 2017, the SSAE grant program received only $400 million, or less than 25% of its $1.65 billion ESSA authorized level. In addition to the funding, the FY17 appropriations bill also included language allowing the states to distribute the money to districts competitively for one-year only.
Funding this program at less than 25% of its authorized level in its first year has already presented serious implementation issues, including the need to allow states to allocate funds to districts competitively, contrary to what is authorized in ESSA. States electing to run a competition will incur significant burdens as they grapple with creating, initiating, and judging a competition. Altering the structure of the program in this manner also negates the Congressional intent of increasing access to SSAE programs for all students and instead is likely to continue to benefit those districts already adept at winning competitive grants.
As a result of the low funding and the confusion around a competition, we are deeply concerned that many states might ignore the competitive option altogether and choose to allocate the money by formula for the sake of ease and fairness to all districts. While our groups ultimately want these dollars to go to every district, electing to distribute the money by formula at this low funding level has its own potentially negative consequences. For instance, many states or districts might choose to simply transfer the dollars for another purpose, as the amounts received by formula may simply not be enough to make meaningful investments in these areas, thereby leaving districts with no federal funds to support Title IVA’s above-mentioned activities.
In addition to the financial challenges of such a low funding level, the amount allocated for SSAE does not allow states and districts to make meaningful investments in a range of programs that, when combined, improve conditions for learning and help students receive a well-rounded education. It will force school districts to choose between high- quality programs that positively impact students in different ways – trading off school counseling services for Advanced Placement programs, for instance, thereby jeopardizing the greater flexibility for districts and schools that Congress intended.
Since the Student Support and Academic Enrichments Grants (SSAE) program is the third largest authorized program in ESSA, failing to adequately fund it would undermine the bipartisan Congressional intent included in this important law. Therefore, it is essential to fully fund SSAE in any appropriations legislation for the remainder of FY17 and for FY18.