Here’s What States Are Doing With Their ESSA Block Grant Money

Here’s What States Are Doing With Their ESSA Block Grant Money


For decades, district leaders have been clamoring for more say over how they spend their federal money. And when the Every Student Succeeds Act passed back in 2015, it looked like they had finally gotten their wish: a brand-new $1.6 billion block grant that could be used for computer science initiatives, suicide prevention, new band instruments, and almost anything else that could improve students’ well-being or provide them with a well-rounded education.

But, for now at least, it looks like most district officials will only get a small sliver of the funding they had hoped for, putting the block grants’ effectiveness and future in doubt.

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, ”or Title IV of ESSA, ”only received about a quarter of the funding the law recommends, $400 million for the 2017-18 school year, when ESSA will be fully in place for the first time…

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HAWAII: VIDEO: Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Webinar

HAWAII: VIDEO: Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Webinar

Published on May 20, 2016

Sign up for our Asian American and Pacific Islander stakeholder list here:

This powerpoint presentation can be found here:

Please contact Rita Pin Ahrens, Monica Thammarath, or Kelly Honda with any questions.

Rita Pin Ahrens:
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Kelly Honda:

Democrats Blast Betsy DeVos for Her Department’s ‘Hostility’ to Civil Rights

Democrats Blast Betsy DeVos for Her Department’s ‘Hostility’ to Civil Rights

Fifty Democrats in Congress have urged Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to nominate a “qualified individual” to run the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights, and are continuing to criticize her approach to issues ranging from sexual assault to transgender student rights protections.

In a letter Tuesday, the Democratic lawmakers specifically singled out Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, for displaying a “hostility towards the very mission and functions of the office she is charged to lead.” More broadly, the lawmakers criticized the department’s approach to investigations involving students of color, English-language learners, and LGBTQ students, among others.

DeVos’s approach to civil rights has become one of the most controversial parts of her work during her first six months on the job. The secretary has said that the education department’s office for civil rights under Obama was too aggressive and too eager to pursue broad cases against institutions, leaving individual students’ civil rights complaints to languish…

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What Happened to ESSA’s Innovative Testing Pilot?

What Happened to ESSA’s Innovative Testing Pilot?

Remember the Every Student Succeeds Act’s brand new program aimed at helping states try out new forms of testing?

If not, you’re in good company. We hardly hear anything about ESSA’s “innovative assessment pilot” anymore, including from the U.S. Department of Education. That could change, however. The agency is considering next steps to open the pilot in the 2018-19 school year, a spokesman said.

When ESSA passed back in December 2015, the pilot—which would initially allow up to seven states to try out new forms of testing in a handful of districts for federal accountability purposes—was one of the most eye-catching pieces of the new law. State officials crammed conference rooms and jumped on webinars to figure out how to apply. Two big states, New York and California, expressed at least some interest. And Colorado even passed a law requiring the state education agency to seek the flexibility…

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REPORT: State Legislatures Opting in to Opting Out

REPORT: State Legislatures Opting in to Opting Out

By: Michelle Croft and Richard Lee
ACT Research and Policy

Despite (or because of) the federal requirement that all students in certain grades participate in statewide achievement testing, stories of parents opting their student out of the testing gained national attention in the media in the spring of 2015. Ultimately, twelve states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin—received a notice from the U.S. Department of Education that they needed to create a plan to reduce opt-outs due to low participation rates.

When statewide testing came in spring 2016, there were more stories of opt-outs, and information about districts failing to meet participation requirements will follow in the coming months.3 Early reports from New York indicate that 21% of students in grades 3–8 opted out in 2016, which was slightly more than the prior year. (See attached PDF below for reference information.)

Participation Rate Requirements

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (both the No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds authorizations) requires that all students annually participate in statewide achievement testing in mathematics and English in grades 3–8 and high school as well as science in certain grade spans. Ninety-five percent of students at the state, district, and school level must participate; otherwise there is a range of consequences.

Under the No Child Left Behind authorization, the school would automatically fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress if the school—or subgroups of students within the school—did not meet the participation rate requirement. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states with greater flexibility to determine how to incorporate the participation rate into the state’s accountability system. However, in proposed regulations, the state will need to take certain actions such as lowering the school’s rating in the state’s accountability system or identifying the school for targeted support or improvement, if all students or one or more student subgroups do not meet the 95% participation rate.

Michelle Croft is a principal research associate in Public Affairs at ACT. Richard Lee is a senior analyst in Public Affairs at ACT.

Email for more information. © 2016 by ACT, Inc. All rights reserved. MS489

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REPORT: State Pre-K Funding for 2015-16 Fiscal Year: National Trends in State Preschool Funding. 50-State Review

REPORT: State Pre-K Funding for 2015-16 Fiscal Year: National Trends in State Preschool Funding. 50-State Review

Emily Parker, Bruce Atchison and Emily Workman
Education Commission of the States

This report highlights significant investments made by both Republican and Democratic policymakers in state-funded pre-k programs for the fourth year in a row. In the 2015-16 budget year, 32 states and the District of Columbia raised funding levels of pre-k programs. This increased support for preschool funding came from both sides of the aisle–22 states with Republican governors and 10 states with Democratic governors, plus the District of Columbia.

In contrast, only five states with Republican governors and three states with Democratic governors decreased their pre-k funding.

Overall, state funding of pre-k programs across the 50 states and the District of Columbia increased by nearly $755 million, or 12 percent over 2014-15. While this progress is promising, there is still work to be done to set children on the path to academic success early in life. Still, less than half of preschool-aged students have access to pre-k programs.

Increasing the number of students in high-quality preschool programs is broadly viewed as a way to set young learners on a path to a secure economic future and stable workforce. This report includes several state examples and an overview of the pre-k programs they have in place. Data tables on total state pre-K funding and state pre-kindergarten funding by program are appended. [Megan Carolan contributed to this publication.]

Download (PDF, 1.13MB)

Education Commission of the States. ECS Distribution Center, 700 Broadway Suite 1200, Denver, CO 80203-3460. Tel: 303-299-3692; Fax: 303-296-8332; e-mail:; Web site:

[ESSA] State Plan Versions That Have Been Released So Far

[ESSA] State Plan Versions That Have Been Released So Far

A number of states have released drafts of their ESSA plans. Here’s a compiled list of the most recent versions states have released so far.

Arizona: First Draft (9/7/16)  Second Draft (11/9/16) Final Plan (1/15/17)

Colorado: First Draft (2/10/17)

Connecticut: Released plan (4/3/17)

Delaware: First Draft (11/1/16)

District of Columbia: Released Plan (4/3/17)

Hawaii: First Draft (12/28/16) Released Plan (4/3/17)

Idaho: First Draft (11/2/16)

Iowa: First Draft (01/6/17)

Illinois: First Draft (9/7/16) Second Draft (11/18/16) Released Plan (4/3/17)

Kentucky: Partial Plan Released (11/1/16)

Louisiana: First Draft (9/28/16)

Massachusetts: Released Plan (4/3/17)

Maryland: First Draft (12/5/16)

Michigan: First Draft (2/14/17)

Montana: First Draft (11/19/16) Second Draft (12/15/16)

Nevada: Released Plan (4/3/17)

New Jersey: First Draft (2/15/17)

North Carolina: First Draft (9/30/16)

North Dakota: First Draft (1/13/17)

Ohio: Second Draft (2/2/17)

Oklahoma: First Draft (11/21/16)

Tennessee: First Draft (12/19/16) Released Plan (4/3/17)

Vermont: Released Plan (4/3/17)

Washington: First Draft (9/30/16)  Second Draft (11/16/16)

Source: Understanding ESSA

Public Charter Schools and Accountability

Public Charter Schools and Accountability

Earlier this week, the Brookings Institution released the fifth annual Education Choice and Competition Index, which ranks school choice in the largest school districts in the U.S.

During her address, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos claimed that “parents are the primary point of accountability.” When asked about policies that ensure that schools of choice are actually improving student performance, she answered that “the policies around empowering parents and moving the decision-making to the hands of parents on behalf of children is really the direction we need to go.” She later repeated the idea that transparency and information, coupled with parental choice, equated to accountability.

While it is indeed important to communicate information on school choice, transparency and information are only part of the accountability puzzle. In addition to these components, states also use accountability to ensure that schools that fail to meet academic or financial standards are improved or closed.

This is of particular importance for public charter schools, who have been given the authority to operate independently of school districts and many state rules or regulations. Accountability rules assure that students are learning and that public funds are spent responsibly.

While the accountability measures used for charter schools to demonstrate quality performance vary from state to state, they do exist, and they include more than just reporting information to parents.

Forty-three states had charter school laws in place when we completed this analysis (not including Kentucky, which passed a bill in March 2017 to allow charter schools). We examined four points of accountability within the charter school policies as recorded by the Education Commission of the States: annual reporting, specifications for termination, performance-thresholds, and technical assistance.

Annual Reporting

Most states require charter schools to submit annual reports as a part of their accountability obligations. Some annual reporting requirements include annual report cards, education progress reports, curriculum development, attendance rates, graduation rates, and college admission test scores. Many states that do not require annual reports still require financial reports, which speaks to the other side of accountability, appropriate usage of funds.

  • Some states, such as Washington, require charter schools to provide the same annual school performance reports as non-charter schools.
  • In Ohio, each charter is required to disseminate the state Department of Education’s school report card report to all parents.
  • North Carolina requires its charter schools to publish their report performance ratings, awarded by the State Board of Education, on the internet. If the rating is D or F, the charter school must send written notice to parents. North Carolina also requires specific data reporting related to student reading.

State Specification for Termination

Forty-two states specify the grounds for terminating a charter school, fostering accountability by establishing standards and consequences of failure to adhere to those standards. Failure to demonstrate academic achievement and failure to increase overall school performance are among the terms cited as grounds of termination among some states.

These state specifications for termination do not only apply to performance levels; they can be applied to a violation of any part of the charter law or agreement, such as fraud, failure to meet audit requirements, or failure to meet standards set for basic operations.

State Threshold

In addition to state specifications for termination, some states have set a threshold marking the lowest point where a school can perform before it is closed. Some states without a clearly communicated low-performance threshold have set other standards which specifically mark the lowest point of acceptable performance.

Setting a minimum threshold for performance for the automatic closure of failing schools may increase charter school accountability, and encourage high performance.

State-Provided Technical Assistance

Technical assistance to charter schools included leadership training or mentoring charter school leaders, or assistance with grant and application writing and other paperwork related to charter school operation.

In addition to holding charter schools accountable for high performance, several states offer technical assistance to ensure that charter school administrators understand how requirements are measured, and can be directed to resources to assist them with achieving performance goals, especially if they are at risk of closure due to failing to meet previously established standards.

These are clear displays of school accountability policies that help to ensure that parents have truly good schools from which to schools. Accountability relies not only on information for parents, but also consequences for schools that fail to educate students or use taxpayer dollars responsibly.

Charter Accountability

[1] The following states also require annual financial audits with their annual performance reports: Arkansas, Arizona, DC, Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, Michigan, Texas, Utah

[2] Utah requires the most comprehensive technical assistance offerings, provided by the state charter school board which includes: assistance with the application and approval process for charter school authorization, locating private funding and support sources, and understanding and implementing charter requirements.