Successful bipartisan acts of Congress are rare. The signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) this past December 10 was one of those remarkable occurrences. All smiles and handshakes, representatives of the two major parties had this to say at the time:
“Sending this long-overdue fix to No Child Left Behind to the president’s desk proves yet again that the Republican-led Senate is following through on its promise to the American people.” – John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference
“I commend Senator Patty Murray and Chairman Lamar Alexander, along with their counterparts in the House, for their bipartisan work to get this legislation across the finish line.” – Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
But in a lesson on the workings of Congress, signing the bill authorizing $1.65B is far different from actually appropriating the funding, to be it put into action. Of the $1.65B authorized, only $300M is now being proposed by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. When allocated to the states and the districts, this amounts to a grand total of $6,000 for smaller districts.
Here’s How ESSA Was Supposed To Work
Jon Bernstein gave an update on the status of ESSA at ISTE 2016. The ISTE white paper offers a guide to the new ed tech provisions in the law. A Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant Program (SSAEG) is established by Title IV of the bill to provide support for technology and professional development. School districts that receive above $30,000 from this program must expend 20% of their grant on safe and healthy school activities and 20% on activities to provide well-rounded education programs. The remaining portion is spent on technology and technology-related training.
ESSA authorized $1.65B for SSAEG, but due to the Balanced Budget Act and the size of the overall federal budget, it would be difficult to achieve an appropriation that large. The first reduction came in the president’s budget which allocated only $500M to SSAEG. The Senate took that even lower to $300M. There is support for ESSA funding in the House of Representatives, but their budget number for SSAEG is as yet unknown.
What Needs To Be Done?
Technology in education advocacy groups like ISTE and COSN have been encouraging congress to raise the SSAEG budget to a usable number. They are also providing help for teachers, parents, and everyone who wants to encourage their elected representatives to support digital learning through ESSA and specifically, adequately funding SSAEG. District administrators are encouraged to reach out to parents, who hold tremendous sway in the quest for congressional funding.