Signed into law in December 2015, the ESSA demonstrates a new and clear intent to support arts education in our country. This is an exciting shift from previous federal legislation, because it specifically enumerates music and the arts as integral parts of a “Well-Rounded Education.”
Now that educators and advocates have had time to explore the possibilities of ESSA’s revolutionary policy updates, many are asking an important question:
How do we make this a reality in our schools?
ESSA provides our schools with a path to improved learning culture. Through developing enrichment opportunities for public school students in America, research shows conclusively that we can achieve higher standards in all areas of education. By focusing on whole-student needs, and by including families as part of the process, we have an opportunity to have true accountability for student outcomes at all levels. But how can we access this support and what specific programs can we reference to get the job done?
Part A of the Act gives us the first details of a direct answer: Title I Funding. This assistance program traditionally ensures financial support for schools based on the percentage of low-income participants, to help generate proficiency on academic achievement standards. These academic achievement standards, the responsibility of state and local agencies, in no uncertain terms must now include support for well-rounded subjects like music and the arts! Under ESSA, Title I funds are additionally defined and separated into categories that State Education Agencies (SEA’s) and Local Education Agencies (LEA’s) use to determine the equity of distribution and student populations served. SEA’s and LEA’s adhere to these categories in determining the measurable details of Title I funding for their schools.
The fact that ESSA depends greatly on Title I support does not at all indicate that the programs and monies are only for low-income schools. ESSA defines a flexibility of funding usage for Title I and other funds (Title II and Title IV funds are also featured) which will allow universal access (Section 1009: Schoolwide Program Plan and Section 1009: Targeted Assistance Schools). Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education clarified the funding increase and usage in August of 2016 by stating that ESSA funds are to “supplement, not supplant” existing funding structures established. This means that billions of dollars are newly available for true research-based academic growth, student enrichment, school improvement and community investment. The promise of ESSA is to provide all children with access to success through high-quality, well-rounded education in America.