Feds finally issue guidance on ESSA and supplanting

Feds finally issue guidance on ESSA and supplanting

(District of Columbia) Three years after Congress revised the overly complex rules prohibiting the supplanting of federal funds, the U.S. Secretary of Education has finally issued guidance on the question.

Long a bane of districts everywhere, the so-called ‘supplement not supplant’ rules are imbedded within most federal grant programs, but became a compliance nightmare for schools because of its application to each area of services where federal money was used.

As part of the overall effort by Congress to simplify the national education law, the adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 included provisions giving states and local educational agencies more flexibility in the use of Tile I grant money.

At the same time, however, ESSA didn’t actually repeal the supplanting rule. Under the new law, local education agencies are still required to use federal money as a supplement to what they are already getting from state and local sources.

What changed was how LEAs could show their compliance with the supplanting rule: they merely have to show how each school is receiving all the state and local money they would otherwise be getting.

Initially it sounded simple, but debate between Congressional leaders and the Obama administration clouded the issue, and with the election of President Donald Trump a final directive was needed.

That came last week with release of a 24-page, draft information guide that will be pending for the next 30 days and subject to public comment.

“Schools need to spend resources on what’s best for students, not what’s least likely to come up in an audit,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a statement. “Teachers and school leaders consistently tell me the ever-growing paperwork burden is one of the biggest impediments to focusing on what really matters: the kids.”

Under the old system, LEAs were required to prove federal money was used properly utilizing one of three “test” scenarios that focused on case-by-case spending. Under ESSA, there is just one test.

Section 1118(b) also says that districts will not be required to identify and prove that a particular cost or service supported with Title I money is indeed supplemental. Instead, ESSA provides for a single test calling on districts to:

“[D]emonstrate that the methodology used to allocate state and local funds to each school receiving assistance under this part ensures that such school receives all of the State and local funds it would otherwise receive if it were not receiving assistance under this part [Title I].”

The new guidance uses the term “Title I neutral” to describe a proper methodology that “allocates state and local funds to schools without regard for Title I status,” the department said. “This demonstrates an LEA did not reduce the State and local funds made available to a Title I school because such a school is also receiving Title I, Part A funds. This is consistent with the purpose of the supplement not supplant requirement.”

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