Monday, October 18, 2021

Federal Title IV, Part A funding should increase


When Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that succeeded President Bush’s signature program, the No Child Left Behind act, it included funding for music, fine arts, and other “well-rounded” educational programs under Title IV, Part A, of $1.65 billion, yet that funding is in jeopardy.

Band students from Baltimore Polytechnic in the Mayor’s Christmas Parade, Dec. 3 (Voxitatis)

Here’s the bottom line: If what you’re doing for schools or school funding doesn’t somehow make school life better for the kids in this picture, you’re wasting your taxpayers’ money.

Title IV is the third-largest authorized program within ESSA and includes the “Student Support and Academic Enrichment” block grants.

States and school districts can use this money to supplement student access to a well-rounded education, including instruction and activities in music and the arts. Many other education programs also qualify as enhancing access to a well-rounded education, but none of those programs have advocacy groups as big as the fine arts, music in particular.

For fiscal year 2017, Congress funded the SSAE block grant at $400 million, about one-fourth of its original authorization level. President Donald Trump earlier this year, as part of his budget proposal, suggested eliminating SSAE funding altogether in FY 2018. Zero dollars.

Considering opposing viewpoints

The clearest elucidation from the Trump administration as to why the president would zero out the SSAE block grants can perhaps be found in justification statements behind their budget proposal. Regarding the SSAE block grants, the White House said this (see page 29):

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program, newly authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, consolidated four previously authorized programs: Mathematics and Science Partnerships, Advanced Placement, Elementary and Secondary School Counseling, and Physical Education. The Program provides funding to school districts for activities that support well-rounded educational opportunities (e.g. arts, STEM), safe and healthy students, and the effective use of technology.

Subgrants can be awarded by formula to all school districts that receive Title I, Part A funds, which at the current funding level of $400 million, would result in award amounts of less than $30,000 for the vast majority of school districts. The Administration does not believe limited Federal resources should be allocated to a program where many of its grants will likely be too small to have a meaningful impact. Furthermore, the school districts that do receive at least $30,000 must follow funding restrictions that prescribe a minimum amount that must be spent on the program’s different categories of activities, further diluting the program’s impact and removing discretion that is best left to local decision-makers.

Also, the activities authorized under this program generally can be supported with funds from other Federal, State, local, and private sources, including similarly flexible funds provided under the $15 billion Title I Grants to LEAs program.

Private sources? I suppose, but the administration here would have schools hold bake sales not only to send the band to New York but also just to have a band at the school in the first place. It would have schools seek out corporate sponsors not only for football stadiums but also for PE classes, further commercializing the school experience for children.

Therein lies the rub: The argument made by the Trump administration makes some sense, and we can take a look at how effective these smaller programs are. But we have yet to take a serious look at this, since Title IV funding (and its precursors in the ESEA) was never cut to zero.

But to cut the program to zero on the basis of an argument that isn’t backed up by actual evidence—and that has millions of kids marching in the streets with some flutes that were purchased by the district with some of that “diluted … under-$30,000” funding—is premature and pernicious.

Now, versions of the budget are in play in both chambers of Congress at this time, particularly the revenue streams in the tax reform bills. But a look at the other side of the equation, at how the government plans to spend its money, reveals cuts to key programs that will, over the long term, erode the quality of life for students in the nation’s schools.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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