Yesterday, the Department of Education released the promised guidance on implementing the new equitable services provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Here is the
For more complete guidance on all equitable services provisions in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, see the
documents. N.b., both of these earlier guidance docs are still relevant and offer the Department's interpretation of the law.
Overall, the guidance is positive because it seeks to implement the plain language of the law in a straightforward manner. Since the changes to the text were suggested by this office and our allies, we are relieved to see it implemented without any shenanigans!
While there will be more discussion of the new language over the next weeks, months, and years, here are my first reactions and highlights, beginning on page 23 of the guidance. At the bottom, please find my list of action items for superintendents and state Catholic conference education staffers.
The role and duties of the ombudsman, as well as the state's requirements to establish and fund the position, are laid out in accordance with our vision for the office (see the
- Ombudsman should be the primary contact for Catholic school officials on questions and advice regarding equitable services.
- Suggested activities for the ombudsman include:
- initial outreach to non-government school representatives to properly define the role;
- setting up monitoring protocols;
- provide technical assistance to LEA and non-government school officials;
- serve on the state Committee of Practitioners;
- establish documentation procedures;
- The selection of the ombudsman should be done following outreach and conversation with the non-government school community, i.e., through the state's CAPE or similar organization.
- Costs for the ombudsman office should come out of the state's consolidated administrative budget, or if they do not consolidate, they may use a portion of equitable services dollars.
- Importantly, the guidance urges states to install an ombudsman soon so that he may participate in consultations beginning in early 2017 for the 2017-18 school year.
The guidance states that, "the purpose of this requirement is to ensure that an LEA uses the funds...in a timely manner." That is good news and provides even more support to those in consultation with their LEAs. Funds may still "carry over" at the end of the year if "an LEA is unable to obligate all funds...in a responsible manner," however, this may only happen due to, "extenuating circumstances".
Notification of Allocation:
Under ESSA, the state is required to notify non-government school officials of the allocation for equitable services and how that allocation was determined, in a timely fashion. The guidance further encourages that the ombudsman be involved in this sharing of information, and that non-government school officials should be consulted on how best to share the data. Suggestions include publicly hosting it on a website or emailing directly to appropriate officials. I would suggest a publicly-hosted website.
Direct State Services:
Catholic school officials may request the state provide Title services directly if the LEA has demonstrated an inability to carry out the provisions of the law. Importantly, the guidance suggests the SEA craft clear protocols for how this will be determined. It is important to ensure we are giving input when these are crafted.
Question N-13 of the guidance should be read in full by all those involved in consultations. It supplies powerful and useful language on what consultation requires and how to assure "agreement" between LEAs and non-government school officials. It is on page 28 of the guidance and I will not quote it because I want you to read it in entirety!
Allocation of Funds:
"Set-asides" can no longer be taken out before the calculation of the proportionate share for equitable services. This is big, and the guidance is clear on the prohibition. If low-income students in a Catholic school represent 10% of the population of low-income students in that LEA, then 10% of Title I dollars will be devoted to equitable services, as the guidance makes clear.
What will be important for Catholic school officials is scrutinizing the administrative costs proposed by the LEA. The "reasonable and necessary" administrative costs to implement equitable services will be taken from the proportionate share now; and ensuring the amount is not unreasonable or unnecessary is crucial.
The requirement that a minimum of 1% of the equitable share be used for parental and family engagement remains.
Although "pooling" or consolidation of funds has existed in guidance for more than a decade, ESSA codified the practice into statutory language for the first time. As part of consultation, the LEA must now discuss this option. If you had trouble convincing an LEA to pool before, or had considered it but were unsure, now you can point to the law and show greater support for the practice.
The guidance puts in clear language the new requirement that the proportionate share for equitable services under Title II-A (professional development) are drawn from the LEAs entire allocation, not just the portion devoted to PD. This is a game-changer and dioceses and school officials should have begun planning for the increased services already. The guidance is reassuringly clear, with examples and tables, on how to determine the proportionate share.
Beginning next year, the complaint process has stricter deadlines and timelines for responses from the state and federal Department. Specifically, your SEA has 45 days and ED has 90 more days if the SEA decision is appealed.