ED Issues Draft ‘Supplement Not Supplant’ Guidance

Challenges to K-12 Education Oversight Under ESSA Also Discussed in GAO Report
Jerry Ashworth
February 11, 2019 at 08:20:18 ET

The Department of Education (ED) has developed and is seeking comments on proposed guidance to help school districts more easily follow the “supplement not supplant” requirement pertaining to their Title I, Part A grant awards under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (Pub. L. 114-95). The guidance was one of two recent federal documents issued addressing grants oversight under ESSA. The other was issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

ESSA, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (Pub. L. 89-10) and its successor No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (Pub. L. 107-110), maintains and expands “supplement not supplant” provisions for many of its education funding programs. These provisions require that awarded federal funds be used to create a new program or augment an existing program, not to replace state and local funds or services that would otherwise be provided.

ED recently issued proposed nonregulatory guidance, meaning it does not create or impose new legal requirements, to support school districts’ compliance with the requirement that federal funds supplement, but do not supplant, state and local funds.

According to ED, the supplement not supplant requirement under NCLB had become restrictive and burdensome — to the point that some school districts made ineffective spending choices to avoid noncompliance. The agency added that the requirement changed under ESSA to provide more flexibility to school districts while still ensuring that federal dollars are supplemental to state and local funds and cannot be used to replace them.

Compliance Demonstration

ESSA contains a new supplement not supplant compliance demonstration for local educational agencies (LEAs). To demonstrate compliance with the supplement not supplant requirement, an LEA’s allocation methodology must result in each Title I school in the LEA receiving all the state and local funds it would otherwise receive if it were not receiving Title I, Part A funds (i.e., the methodology may not take into account a school’s Title I status.) When an LEA allocates state and local funds to schools through a methodology that is neutral with regard to whether or not a school receives Title I, Part A funds, it follows that Title I, Part A funds in a Title I school are supplemental to its state and local funds. ED defines such an allocation methodology as “Title I neutral.”

The guidance document also contains numerous Frequently Asked Questions. For example, one question asks whether an LEA has discretion as to which state and local funds it allocates to schools? ED responded that the determination of which funds to allocate to schools is at the discretion of the LEA. An LEA does not normally allocate all of its state and local funds to schools, the agency added, explaining that “an LEA by both necessity and choice retains some state and local funds at the district level.”

Another question asks whether an LEA has flexibility in developing its methodology for allocating state and local funds to schools. ED replied that many LEAs are likely to use an existing allocation methodology to demonstrate compliance, as long as the methodology is Title I neutral. However, when developing a methodology, an LEA does have significant flexibility in its design. LEAs may, but are not required to, consider:

  • whether to use a single districtwide methodology or variable methodology/multiple methodologies based on grade or school type;
  • how the methodology may vary based on student enrollment size; or
  • how the methodology may account for schools in need of additional funds to serve high concentrations of children with disabilities, English learners or other such groups of students the LEA determines require additional support.

ED will be accepting public comments on the proposed guidance through Feb. 24 to allow educators, parents and others to provide feedback. Comments may be sent by email to the ED Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at oese.feedback@ed.gov.

Multiple Oversight Challenges

In another matter involving ESSA, GAO recently sent a report to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that identified four key challenges ED faces in assessing kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) program performance. These are:

  • overseeing and monitoring grant performance under federal requirements, conducting evaluations and improving risk management;
  • collecting quality data on recipient performance that meets users’ needs for completeness, accuracy, consistency, timeliness and validity;
  • lacking the performance assessment information needed to make decisions and the organizational resources needed to conduct assessments; and
  • lacking the ability to assess program performance due to outcomes that are hard to measure.

Although GAO noted that ED has taken some steps to mitigate these challenges, it added that these concerns still “are complex and persistent. Federal programs are implemented in dynamic environments where competing priorities must be continually balanced and addressed in a way that meets local needs. ED’s ongoing efforts to address challenges may prove particularly important given the changing education landscape under ESSA.”

GAO explained that ESSA includes certain provisions that increase flexibility for state educational agencies and LEAs — such as allowing them to develop performance measures suited to their unique needs — and ESSA requires ED to conduct new program evaluations. However, the GAO report, which provided information on the K-12 program but no recommendations, noted that questions have been raised about how ED assesses the performance of its wide-ranging education programs.

“Education officials told us that the flexibility ESSA provides for state and local educational agencies under various grant programs complicates efforts to design program-level performance measures because state and local educational agencies’ program goals vary based on their unique needs,” GAO said.

For More Information

The draft ED supplement not supplant guidance is available at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/snstitleiguidance.pdf.

The GAO report is available at https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/696660.pdf.

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