ESEA Flexibility for States and Local Districts – Will this Help Principals Better Serve Disadvantaged Students?

Representative John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, introduced a third bill in the effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  H.R. 2445, the State and Local Funding Flexibility Act, is designed to give states and local school districts greater authority and flexibility to co-mingle and transfer funds among the various programs authorized in ESEA.

According to the legislation, the measure would expand and extend flexibility for states and districts to use funds in and among the various titles in ESEA once any accountability or set-aside requirements have been met.  There are many ways in which funds could be used under the proposal. For example, instead of using Title I funds for children and youth returning to school after being in a correctional facility, a school district could decide to use the funds to buy software or curricula for English language learners, an allowable use of funds under Title III. Similarly, a state could transfer funds for after-school programs to instead conduct outreach and advocacy activities for migrant children and their families according to Title I migrant education. You can read the legislation here

NAESP has long advocated for reasonable flexibility in how federal funds can be used at the state and local level to meet the needs of disadvantaged students. The hands of educators in our schools should not be tied by burdensome regulations. NAESP firmly believes that all ESEA policies must be grounded in equity, especially for the most at-risk students as identified in current law (ie., minority low-income students, English language learners).

While NAESP supports state and local flexibility, we are concerned that the bill language may result in greater disparities in programs and services for disadvantaged students. Most importantly, NAESP is concerned that the legislation may exacerbate the problem of being able to meet the needs of some students and not others, while knowing that services to benefit disadvantaged students in the building have been redirected. Further, while NAESP supports flexibility tied to accountability, the bill language links to the current accountability system that we believe is inherently flawed and must be significantly amended.     

NAESP also firmly believes that states and school districts should be held accountable for providing sufficient and meaningful professional development for teachers and principals before moving any Title II funds. It is concerning that the House committee uses the specific example to surmise that a state or school district receiving formula funds under the Teacher Quality State Grant program could use the funds to purchase new computers or create a new literacy program for English language learners, instead of using the funds for their intended use under Title II of the law professional development for teachers and principals. 

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