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Education and Tech Get a Boost from Latest Spending Bill

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 provides increased funds for education technology, and the Department of Education as a whole.

Late last week on March 23, President Trump signed into the law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. It is a far cry from the president’s proposed budget that, as we have mentioned before, can be completely ignored by Congress, which forged its own budget that ended up very different from Trump’s priorities.

The budget proposed by the Trump administration for education was only $63.2 billion for discretionary spending, while the bill signed into law last week includes $70.9 billion, up $2.6 billion from the previous level. This is the highest discretionary appropriation on paper for the Department of Education, without adjusting for inflation.

Title IV

In a complete contradiction to the Trump administration’s proposal, not only did Congress keep Title IV, it doubled the amount allocated to $1.1 billion. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) originally authorized Title IV for $1.65 billion. At the time ESSA passed, advocates for well-rounded education, technology, safety and healthy schools all rejoiced. Title IV was seen as the answer to where these dollars would come from for states and school districts. That hope was quickly crushed as the first Title IV funding allocation from Congress was only $400 million.

The proposed Trump budget completely eliminated Title IV, causing many advocates to rally and spend some time on Capitol Hill to make it clear that the funds are absolutely necessary to prepare students for the future workforce, and provide safe and healthy environments for the education community in the wake of tragic events happening across the country. The work paid off, as Title IV is the closest to fully funded that it has been since its inception.

Implications for More Title IV Dollars

Now that there is more funding, districts will receive more dollars. This is important to note, because the law states that any school district that receives a formula allocation above $30,000 must conduct a needs assessment and must then spend 20 percent of its grant on safe and healthy school activities and 20 percent on activities to provide well-rounded education programs. The remaining 60 percent of the money can be spent on all three priorities, including technology. However, there is a 15 percent cap on spending for devices, equipment, software and digital content.

Under the last funding allocation, very few districts received Title IV dollars above the $30,000 threshold. With this new funding allocation, many districts will receive amounts over that threshold, so it is important to understand how those dollars must be spent in order to be compliant with the law.

The Department of Education is planning to open a Title IV technical assistance center in September. It will provide help to district leaders in the coming months as they figure out how best to use their Title IV funds.

Title II

Another area where Trump sought to eliminate funds was in Title II, which is specifically for professional development. Congress let the appropriation stand the same as the last time, right at $2.1 billion. The Title II, Part A program is designed, among other things, to provide students from low-income families and minority students with greater access to effective educators.

This is especially important for two reasons. First, ESSA eliminated the “highly qualified teacher” provision from No Child Left Behind, and now allows states to define what an effective educator looks like. Second, because we know many districts are innovating and implementing new technologies and learning models every day, they will only be effective if the professional development is available.

School Choice

A big area President Trump campaigned on was school choice. The Trump administration proposal requested $1.5 billion in support of giving every student the opportunity to attend a school of his or her choice. This is another interesting area where Congress chose to do the opposite of what was requested by the executive branch. It appears any funds for this request are completely omitted from the bill that is now law.

Overall, this budget will bring opportunities to states and districts that are truly interested in using technology to ensure that students are prepared for college or a workforce full of unknowns.

Fiscal year 2019 is set to start October 1.