Robert Avossa is the former superintendent of Palm Beach County School District in Florida and Fulton County Schools in Georgia. He is founder of consultancy firm K-12 Leadership Matters, LLC.
Dana Godek is senior policy and research manager at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. She is an expert on federal funding, structures and system design.
As a funding cliff and other realities loom in the wake of massive education recovery spending, education leaders are now facing concerns over sustaining temporary, supplemental programs. Like going on a summer road trip, the ESSER journey is marked out with a clear start and stop, but it’s unclear for many which are the most effective routes, rest stops and sites to see and learn from along the way.
One critical item to learn from now: certain cost-effective practices to support and enrich student learning. How do education leaders learn from and reinvest in these effective routes to keep the journey going?
One such approach is through coordinated spending. ESSER is more flexible than other U.S. Department of Education programs, therefore it presents a unique opportunity to rethink and improve how and which services are delivered to students. This could come in the form of reallocation of funds from traditional Ed Department grants through coordinated spending, often referred to as “braiding funds.”
Coordinated spending allows systems to utilize two or more funding sources to support an initiative or critical activity proven to be successful. Through a facilitated process, system leaders can optimize resources and capitalize on proven impact benefits, using a comprehensive needs assessment-aligned methodology that compresses multiple supports to focus on targeted and strategic effects.
Based on our analysis and preliminary work with states and local education agencies, education leaders are using “rest stops” in their budgeting processes to plan for sustainability and taking in the sites of coordinating spending across multiple funding streams. Here are five key approaches:
- Planning strategically and collaboratively.
- Familiarizing teams with spending possibilities.
- Engaging in comprehensive needs assessment and alignment.
- Compression planning and collaborative implementation.
- Employing a strong governance model.
As in planning for any good road trip, you have to plan. When you plan for sustainable federal spending, it is very important to consider that federal grant programs are subject to a set of regulations known as the Uniform Grant Guidance.
These rules apply in addition to Education Department rules, and they can have a direct effect on spending choices. Key among these rules, especially for coordinated spending, are the general criteria all costs supported with federal funds must satisfy, including that they be:
- Necessary and reasonable for the performance of the federal award.
- Adequately documented.
Coordinated spending and the braiding of funds poses opportunities for leaders to support navigating technical rules, overcoming decades old misperceptions about spending options, and rethinking how best to support vulnerable populations in the most effective ways.
ESSER funding offers an unprecedented opportunity to innovate, exercise flexibility, and support LEAs in making strategic funding choices in relation to the needs of their students and families — now and well into our shared future education road trip.