Districts looking to implement personalized learning will have support from federal funding, as a result of spending approved today by the House Appropriations Committee.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law in December strongly encourages personalized learning and supports more equitable access to technology and digital learning experiences.
Title IV of the new law contains significant new authority for states and districts to pursue personalized, blended learning. The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant block grant provides states and districts the opportunity to fulfill the flexibility provided by the overall structure of the bill, as well as harness the emerging potential of personalized learning.
Provided today’s approval stands, the Student Support and Academic Achievement State Grants would get $1 billion. This is a big investment in the new program – $500 million above the President’s request, but less than the $1.6 billion called for in ESSA authorization. The Senate had originally put $300 million for Title IV in their bill.
Additional important funding levels that impact educational technology procurement include:
- Title I is likely to see a $500 million increase over FY 2016 to $15.4 billion (House and Senate agree on this increase; but this is not all good news. More details below.)
- Special education will likely receive a $500 million increase over FY 2016 to $12.4 billion (House and Senate agree.)
Overall, however, the U.S. Department of Education is likely to see a cut of at least $1 billion, composed of cuts in a number of other programs. This suggests that every program other than Title I, IDEA, and the Title IV block grant might be faced with less funding.
The next step in the process is for the House and Senate to reconcile differences, approve the final version, and send to the President for signature. However, given the upcoming elections, the education funding may get rolled up into an “omnibus” funding bill. We will continue to provide updates as the process moves along.
The Student Support and Academic Achievement State Grants provides flexible funds to states and school districts to expand access to a well-rounded education, improve school conditions, and increase the use of technology. Districts (and charter schools) may use their grant dollars for technology, software, professional development related to this work, and up to 15 percent of funds for broadband infrastructure.
Federal money will flow by formula grants to states, with an emphasis on low-income Title I districts and schools. Districts (and also charter schools in states where they are considered Local Education Agencies) can then apply to their state for grants, possibly as soon as 2017 in some states.
Importantly, when applying for these funds, districts must look at “access to personalized learning experiences supported by technology and professional development for the effective use of data and technology.” In combination with the definitional emphasis throughout Title IV, this needs assessment should drive a greater implementation on quality, personalized learning by districts and schools.
The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program also contains definitions for important terms like “blended learning” and “digital learning,” as well as more common terms like “technology.” The definition of blended learning is particularly strong, having been adapted from the work of Michael Horn and his colleagues developed at the Christensen Institute.
These definitions are important because federal, state, and local funding decisions will be made using them, which should bring more consistency and proficiency to how personalized blended learning is implemented.
Even with these new provisions and funding levels, the Department of Education’s 2014 guidance for funding personalized learning remains in full effect. The memo clarifies ways public schools can use several major current funding streams to pay for edtech, including personalized learning, through the main federal education programs — Title I and IDEA — as well as Title II and Title III.
All of these definitions, provisions, and programs around personalized blended learning provide states and districts with additional funding and flexibility to implement high quality personalized learning strategies, blended learning models, and useful professional development.
Regarding Title I, the $500 million increase seems like a lot, but it isn’t as much as it seems because the roughly $450 million School Improvement Grant program was eliminated. Also related to Title I, states may reserve up to 3 percent of their Title I allocations under the new law for “Direct Student Services.” These are funds that the state can use to support districts that have been identified for improvement and can be used to pay personalized learning.
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