Senate’s ESEA rewrite would do away with supplanting rule

Senate’s ESEA rewrite would do away with supplanting rule

(District of Columbia) A compromise revision of the nation’s primary education law would essentially eliminate long-standing federal prohibitions on using Title I dollars to replace or supplant state and local funds, a top education policy expert said Tuesday.

The “supplement not supplant” rule, which became a focal point of national education policy almost 50 years ago, requires that education funding from the federal government be used only to add or provide expanded services to the target population, not to replace funding that would otherwise be provided by state or local sources.

The rule has created headaches for administrators trying to cobble together money for school-wide improvement programs and led to a long list of compliance sanctions and audit challenges from the U.S. Department of Education.

But if the reauthorization bill that passed out of the U.S. Senate earlier this month becomes law, the supplanting provision will be largely eliminated.

“Federal officials have always been very protective that their funds only be used to support at-risk children,” explained David Deschryver, co-director at Whiteboard Advisors, a nationally recognized education consulting group based in Washington D.C.

“The new language says that districts can demonstrate compliance with ‘supplement-not-supplant’ through a test of methodology of how state and local funds are distributed,” he said. “If schools are getting what they were supposed to get under the state formula, that’s it – there’s no examination of programs or what was bought; they’re not going to get into that level of detail.”

The question then becomes how the law defines proper distribution of state and local money – something Deschryver says isn’t spelled out.

Indeed, the operative section of the law leaves the question unanswered:

COMPLIANCE.—To demonstrate compliance with paragraph (1), a local educational agency shall demonstrate that the methodology used to allocate State and local funds to each school receiving assistance under this part ensures that such school receives all of the State and local funds it would otherwise receive if it were not receiving assistance under this part. (Every Child Achieves, Section 1007, [2]).

Although an arcane provision of federal law, the supplanting rule – like maintenance of effort and time-and-effort accounting – has come to help define the character and mission of the Title I program.

Deschryver said the proposed change in supplanting contemplated by the Senate revision represents a sea-change in perspective for how Congress views use of federal education money.

“If this is adopted, you’ve got to ask – is (ESEA) still a program about poverty or not?” he said. “And the answer is probably, no. It becomes something that is more about enhancing the academic program of the district. It’s really not about resolving poverty issues.”

Both the House and the Senate have passed bills that would revise the No Child Left Behind Act, leaving a conference committee the duty to negotiate a merger that can also attract support from the White House. The work comes as Republican leaders of both houses struggle to find common ground on a number of issues, including a critical highway funding bill that may fall to the wayside if the House of Representatives closes up shop on Thursday to begin its August recess.

Expectations are that negotiations on the NCLB rewrite will come back in September and make a serious run at a compromise, hoping to get consensus before the 2016 presidential campaigns get serious later this year.

Whiteboard Advisors has been tracking for months the opinions of beltway “insiders” on the viability that a reauthorization of NCLB will reach the president’s desk before the end of the year. In the latest poll, 70 percent of those participating in the survey think a rewrite will be signed this year by President Obama.

That up significantly from the April poll that found 52 percent who said an agreement is unlikely as long as Obama is in office.

The unscientific survey includes between 50 and 75 Washington, D.C. education insiders – White House and administration officials along with congressional staffers, state education representatives and leaders of key private education associations, think tanks and other influential groups.

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