Preserving and Enhancing Arts Education through the Every Student Succeeds Act

The Arts Education Funders Coalition (AEFC), supported by Grantmakers in the Arts, worked over the past 3 years to ensure that arts education was preserved and enhanced within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA is the federal law that provides over $20 billion in funding to states, school districts, and schools to improve academic achievement and improve teacher and principal training and quality. This undertaking by the AEFC paid off when Congress recently passed, and the President signed into law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorizes ESEA, replacing No Child Left Behind.

Preserving and Enhancing the Arts in ESEA

The new law retains key provisions and enhances others, which both allow federal education funding to be used to support arts education and allow for the arts to be systemically included in programs and activities at the state, school district, and school level. However, this positive result did not come about without some uncertainty. The AEFC stepped up its advocacy efforts when the arts in ESEA came under attack during Congress’ work this fall. The AEFC, and other supportive organizations, worked to convince Congress of the need to maintain and strengthen the role of the arts in ESEA.

The chief example of this work is the preservation of the arts as a named subject in ESEA. Previously defined as a “core academic subject,” the AEFC worked to ensure the status of the arts was maintained through references to a “well-rounded” education. The term “well-rounded” is specifically defined by the new law as “courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, ARTS, history, geography, computer science, MUSIC, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.”

Why This Matters for You

The inclusion of the arts in the new law’s references to “well-rounded” courses, activities, and programming present key opportunities for State and local arts organizations, as well as other advocates, to engage states, school districts, and schools in advancing arts education, especially for disadvantaged students. The US Department of Education (the Department) is beginning the process of implementing this new law. This implementation process will result in states and school districts beginning to redesign their programs to take advantage of the new opportunities in the law. We will be providing additional information to you as this process moves forward in the coming weeks and months but, in the meantime, we urge you to begin the process of educating your schools, school districts, and state education departments about these provisions. As they begin to do their own work to implement this law, they need to be made aware of the enhanced role for the arts across ESEA programs. Some of the key provisions impacting the arts in ESSA are described below:

Local Educational Agency (LEA) Plans in Title I

The new law requires LEAs to develop plans for Title I funding. An LEA’s Title I Plan is the key document that governs how they will spend and utilize their Title I funding. The plan must include how the LEA will monitor students’ progress in meeting the challenging State academic standards by developing and implementing a well-rounded program of instruction (which includes the arts) to meet the academic needs of all students, among other requirements.

School-wide Programs

Under the new law, an LEA may consolidate and use funds under Title I—Part A, together with other federal, state, and local funds, in order to improve overall education programming at a school where 40 percent of the students are from low income families. A school that doesn’t meet these requirements may request a waiver from the State Educational Agency (SEA) to implement school-wide programs.

An eligible school operating a school-wide program may utilize strategies that help provide an enriched and accelerated curriculum, which may include programs, activities, and courses necessary to provide a well-rounded education. Inclusion of this reference to “well-rounded education” makes clear that the arts can be funded in schools implementing school-wide programs.

Targeted Assistance Programs

Targeted assistance programs operate in schools that do not qualify for school-wide programs or elect not to operate a school-wide program. Unlike school-wide programs, targeted assistance schools must focus funds on eligible children who are failing, or who are most at risk of failing, to meet challenging state standards.

Each targeted assistance school is required to serve participating students identified as eligible children, and to help them meet the challenging state academic standards, which may include programs, activities, and academic courses necessary to provide a well-rounded education. The inclusion of this reference to “well-rounded education” makes clear that the arts can be funded in schools implementing targeted assistance programs.

Professional Development for Arts Teachers

The term “professional development” is used throughout the new law, and is a major focus of Title II funding for teachers, principals, and other school leaders. “Professional development” is defined, in part, as activities that “are an integral part of school and local educational agency strategies for providing educators (including teachers, principals, other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, and, as applicable, early childhood educators) with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable students to succeed in a well-rounded education and to meet the challenging state academic standards.” This inclusion makes clear that teachers who teach the arts can benefit from professional development funded under Title II and other places throughout the new law.

Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants

Overall, these grants are intended to improve students’ academic achievement by increasing the ability of states, LEAs, schools and local communities’ to (1) provide students with access to a well-rounded education, (2) improve school conditions for student learning, and (3) improve the use of technology in order to improve academic achievement and digital literacy.

This new grant program (authorized at $1.6 billion) flows to states according to a formula. States may reserve up to 5 percent of funds to support school districts in carrying out a variety of activities, including offering well-rounded educational experiences to all students. The additional 95 percent of the funds go to LEAs – also based on a formula – where they must support at least one activity or program from three separate categories: well-rounded educational opportunities (LEAs must allocate at least 20 percent of funds to this category), activities to support safe and healthy students (LEAs must allocate at least 20 percent of funds to this category), and activities to support the effective use of technology. Integrating the arts into other academic subjects, including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs, is also a permissible activity.

Prior to receiving funding, an LEA must conduct a needs assessment in order to examine needs for improving access to and expanding opportunities for, a well-rounded education for all students, school conditions for student learning in order to create a healthy and safe school environment, and access to personalized learning experiences supported by technology and professional development for the effective use of data and technology. A key opportunity for arts advocates will be in working with local LEAs on this needs assessment.

21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC)

21st CCLC is a $1 billion program to provide students with a broad array of services, programs, and activities during summer recess and expanded learning time (before and after school). Funds are allocated to states based on a formula, and then used by states to award competitive grants to local providers. Authorized local activities that can be implemented through this program include well-rounded education programs. While arts programming has been a staple of many afterschool programs, this clearly articulates that using funding for this purpose is allowed and encouraged by Federal law.

Assistance for Arts Education Grants

ESSA also authorizes grants to local education agencies and other eligible entities to support arts education. Grants awarded under the program may be used to fund professional development for arts educators, teachers, and principals, development and dissemination of arts education materials, and efforts to expand partnerships between schools and centers for the arts. Eligible entities other than local educational agencies include:

  • state educational agencies
  • institutions of higher education
  • museums
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • eligible national nonprofit organizations
  • other private agencies, institutions, or organizations

A national nonprofit organization is defined as one with national scope that is supported by staff and demonstrates effectiveness or high quality plans for addressing arts education activities for students with disabilities or disadvantaged students. This program was funded at $27 million in FY 2016. With this funding, the Administration is expected to fund 45 previously awarded grants and one new grant in FY 2016.

Next Steps – Implementation and Operationalizing

Now that Congress has passed this legislation, the Department will begin to implement the law’s requirements. The AEFC will maintain its attention on Congress and redouble our focus on working with the Administration to ensure that these hard fought victories are maintained in the regulations, guidance, and applications that will be released on ESSA in the coming months. We will keep AEFC members and their grantees informed of ways in
which they can assist and promote implementation efforts, potentially including educating schools, school districts, and state education departments about these important arts-related provisions.