With the passage in December 2015 of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, music was named as one of the subjects that provide students with a "well-rounded education."
A "well-rounded education" is defined in the 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 education agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and education experience." (ESSA, Title VIII, Section 8002)
Each time the term "well-rounded education" is referenced in the law — over 20 times! — it reinforces the fact that music as well as all of the other subjects listed are essential.
What does this mean for music education? One of the most significant outcomes is that districts can now assess their ability to provide a well-rounded education, including music, and address any deficiencies using federal funds. Another plus for music educators is that federal dollars may be used to provide professional development to help support a well-rounded education.
In December 2019, ESSA received additional funds and among those categories that saw an increase are Title II-A, which will now receive $2.1 billion to support Effective Instruction grants, and Title IV-A, which will now receive $1.2 billion for Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grants.
The SSAE funds are granted from the federal government to the states, which then re-grant them to districts through a grant application process. It is extremely important that educators, parents and school officials learn as much as they can about these resources and how to apply for them.
Here are a few steps to help educators get started.
One of the best places to get relevant information is through the "Everything ESSA" section of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) website. The material provided is well-written and easy to understand.
Identify what types of SSAE grants have been awarded in past years (or enlist the help of a parent to do this). These are public funds, so the information can be accessed by calling the federal grants department at your state's department of education. It might help to know if other districts in your state are receiving SSAE support. States may not be able to provide specific information on how the grants will be used at the district level, but once you find out which districts received funding, you can contact that district's federal grants department for details.
Once you have some understanding of what is in the law and how past grants have been awarded, meet with your principal or supervisor and ask about their knowledge of these resources. Remember, grant funding provides support for the entire school, so you will be considered a hero for bringing great information to your school leaders. If they are not aware, determine who in your district is responsible for writing federal grants then ask to meet with them for additional information and guidance. There are more than 13,500 school districts in the United States, and the vast majority of them has someone on staff whose job is to apply for federal grants. States may have varying application processes, and your federal grants staff person will be able to provide detailed information. It literally pays to find out all you can about the application process because some covered expenditures could include salaries, purchased services, instructional supplies and materials, professional and technical services, and instructional and non-instructional equipment.
Meet with your music education colleagues and figure out what is lacking in your music program and what can be done so more students can be provided with access to music? NAfME provides a comprehensive resource to help with this process. The "Opportunity to Learn Standards" document provides recommendations for curriculum and scheduling, staffing, materials and equipment, and facilities.
Use the guidelines provided by the grants professional in your district and put together a detailed proposal.
Wait for a response from your state but don't be discouraged if funds are not awarded on the first try. These are annual grants so applications can be resubmitted in subsequent years. Do, however, follow-up to see how to better organize your application for the next round.
This is our time. Music education has never been in a better place to determine its own future. But it is up to us. Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." His quote accurately describes what lies ahead. So, familiarize yourself with the details of ESSA, meet with your music department to come up with a game plan and make that appointment with your principal.
This article first appeared in the Music for All National Festival program.
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