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Policy Update: We've Come Too Far to Underfund

By Tiffany Miller Oct. 26, 2016

On Sept. 20, dozens of leaders from across the Communities In Schools network descended upon Capitol Hill to urge #EquityInESSA. In more than 70 congressional offices, we established new relationships, strengthened existing ones and tried to stress the pivotal importance of the new federal education law known as ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act).

Congress voted overwhelmingly to pass ESSA last December—a rare instance of bipartisan agreement on an important national priority. With such broad support, it is no surprise that our message was warmly received on Capitol Hill and we are truly grateful that so many decision-makers took the time to meet with us.

But laws are one thing and funding is another. With budget season now in full swing, we wanted lawmakers to know that their bipartisan vision for supporting low-income students appears to be in serious danger.

Title IV, Part A, is the third-largest program under ESSA. It provides block grants that local school districts may use at their discretion in pursuit of three broad goals:

  • Well-rounded education (STEM courses, advanced placement, etc.)
  • Safe and healthy students (pregnancy prevention, mental health support, etc.)
  • Effective use of technology (blended education, computer labs, etc.)

Of course CIS has been enabling “safe and healthy students” for nearly 40 years, and we know that meeting a child’s holistic needs can have a dramatic effect on attendance, behavior and course performance. That’s why we were so excited when ESSA passed last year with an authorization of $1.65 billion for Title IV, Part A. It seemed that Congress had finally recognized the importance of non-academic supports for low-income students.

But here’s the problem: no one in Washington is talking about $1.65 billion any longer. The president asked for $500 million, the Senate proposed $300 million and the House is looking at $1 billion.

Those numbers don’t begin to fulfill the promise of ESSA. Take North Carolina, for instance, where there are 1.4 million students in traditional public schools and 56% are eligible for federal lunch programs. That works out to 784,000 low-income students who need support programs like CIS—but proposed funding levels in the Senate would provide less than $11 per student. Of course Title IV funds won’t be distributed on a per-student basis, but that statistic gives you an idea of just how paltry the funding would be, as proposed.

Congress authorized $1.65 billion for these grants, because lawmakers knew that Title IV, Part A, was one of the biggest ways that ESSA could make a difference. Both the White House and the appropriations committees need to honor the intent of Congress and fully fund the program, bringing real hope to millions of low-income students.

#MoreTitleIV funding matters. Maybe you couldn’t join us for our day of congressional visits, but you can still make your voice heard. Please contact your senators and your representative to ask for full funding of Title IV, Part A (for an easy tool, visit our Policy Corner). Tell them it’s time to honor the intent of Congress, stand up for low-income students and fight for equitable education in our public schools.

 

Photo credit Scott Henrichsen