Federal Arts Education Update: DeVos, ESSA, and Arts Funding

The early days of the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress have already begun to impact the education policy landscape. Alex Nock of Penn Hill Group has provided a summary update for Grantmakers in the Arts on current events that impact arts education and arts funding on a federal level. These events include the confirmation of a new education secretary, changes to the regulations of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and possible budget changes.

New Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

On February 7, by a 51-50 vote, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of the US Department of Education. While her confirmation hearing and other events associated with her nomination generated significant interest, DeVos has publicly acknowledged that she does not enter her position with the experience of having run a state department of education or a school district, nor having taught in a classroom.

GIA’s Arts Education Funders Coalition Advisory Committee hopes to capitalize on the DeVos family’s long-time support for the arts as it seeks to work with Secretary DeVos to implement the new K–12 law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This law explicitly identifies that the federal K–12 funding provided to states, school districts, and schools can be used to fund arts education.

ESSA Regulations

Congress has begun a process to repeal the recently disseminated regulations that provide supplementary direction to the States on what information should be in their plans to implement ESSA. As we have previously reported, the AEFC was successful in correcting a deficiency in these regulations where they did not refer to the “arts” as part of provisions governing a “well-rounded education.” Unfortunately, other provisions in these regulations have generated controversy, leading the US House of Representatives to pass H.J.Res. 57, a resolution effectively repealing these regulations on February 7. The Senate will consider this measure in the coming weeks.

It’s important to note that this resolution does not repeal the provisions that ensure federal education funding can be used to support arts education. Unfortunately, if the Senate does pass this resolution, it is likely to cause some confusion in the States about the process for submitting their ESSA plans to the Department of Education. We are hopeful that the Department of Education will soon provide some clarifying guidance to ensure States stay on track with the implementation of this law.

Now is the time to engage with your states and school districts as they continue to develop how arts education fits within their ESSA work. You can also join Grantmakers in the Arts for a webinar on this larger topic of ESSA implementation on February 28 to learn more about how you can engage.

ESSA State Plans

On Friday, February 10, the US Department of Education sent a letter to the Chief State School Officers in each State with an update on the process that States will use to submit the plans that govern how they will spend their funding under ESSA. With the possibility of the State plan and accountability regulation being repealed by Congress (discussed in the last section), the letter seeks to provide direction to states looking to finalize their plans to implement the new law.

The letter maintains that States can submit their plan during one of two submission windows — April 3 or September 17. The Department provides three options for States to follow in submitting their plans: (1) use the materials (called a “template”) and direction provided under by the Obama Administration, (2) use a new template that will be ready from the Department by March 13, or submit a state (or group of states) designed plan working through the Council of the Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). CCSSO is the association representing states on K–12 education matters in Washington, DC.

For States planning to submit in April, this announcement is unlikely to change their already developing plans. For States submitting in September, a new template or a state-designed template may be of interest. The provisions secured in the law ensure that states, school districts, and schools can use federal funds to support arts education regardless of which plan submission process or template is used by a State.

Arts Funding

Since the Congress has not finalized funding for the current fiscal year, the federal government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) which keeps government operations and programs funded while a final spending bill is developed for Fiscal Year 2017. This resolution expires on April 28. Congress and the Trump Administration will be working towards finalizing 2017 spending — either through a yearlong CR or a full appropriations bill — before that date.

In the meantime, it is important to keep in mind that no agency or program has its final 2017 spending level yet, including education programs like Title I, or the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Now is the time to continue to engage with your representatives or senators to ensure they support funding for the arts. You can find out how to contact your representative here, and your senator here.