- A long-awaited U.S. Department of Education final rule for the American Rescue Plan's K-12 maintenance of equity provision, published Wednesday, clarifies requirements states need to follow to ensure districts are not making disproportionate budget and staffing cuts at high-poverty schools.
- Specifically, the rule extends until July 8 the deadline for when states must publish information on school districts that are exempt from the requirement. It also addresses how state education agencies can report on district-level compliance.
- Some state and local school systems have said the rule's reporting requirements, which only apply to the school year just ending and next school year, are burdensome, but many agree with the push to increase equitable practices. Some advocates also hope the rule initiates efforts for longer-lasting fiscal approaches that eliminate disproportionate practices for per-pupil funding and full-time staffing.
Congress included the maintenance of equity provision in the ARP legislation in March 2021, and since then, the Education Department has issued various guidance and technical assistance, including an FAQ to help districts and states comply with the requirement.
The department received 12 comments during a public comment period for the proposed rule. One concern voiced by commenters, according to the Ed Department, is a too-tight deadline for states to publish district-level maintenance of effort data on the state website regarding which districts are exempt from the requirement.
As a result, the department is shifting the deadline from March 31 to July 8, 30 days from the rule's publication in the Federal Register.
Commenters also raised concerns about the timeline for publishing data for districts that must comply with the rule because the deadline, in some cases, doesn't align with existing fiscal reporting practices.
The Dec. 31, 2022, deadline for FY 2022 will not change, and the department acknowledges the reporting for maintenance of equity "may not align with per-pupil expenditure data published for Title I, Part A report cards."
But, it adds, the equity reporting "simply allows, but does not require, LEAs [local education agencies] to use such expenditure data for the purpose of demonstrating compliance with the maintenance of equity requirements."
The department also explains that districts can rely on allocations or budget data to make a determination of whether they maintained equity. Because states collect and finalize per-pupil expenditure data on different timelines, states can request a "reasonable extension" beyond Dec. 31, 2022.
The final rule does a good job striking a balance between the needs of holding states and districts accountable for collecting and reporting staffing and funding data, and giving some flexibility to alleviate paperwork burdens, said Ivy Morgan, associate director for P-12 analytics at The Education Trust, a nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families.
Morgan said she'd like the Education Department update the FAQ to reflect the final rule's messaging. She also said an optional data reporting template for reporting local school district maintenance of equity data could add consistency to reporting among districts.
More broadly, Morgan would like to see additional policies and practices to ensure federal funding is spent equitably, building on the "collective muscle" from discussions around ARP's equity data collection and reporting.
Chad Aldeman, policy director at The Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, a research center that explores and models complex education finance decisions, said the final rule offers a few more flexibilities than what was originally interpreted. "Congress sort of bound the hand of the department" with the way the department had to write the rule, Aldeman said.
Aldeman said adjustments would be needed before the rule could serve as a model for more permanent provisions on spending federal funds equitably. Most districts don’t prepare budgets for individual schools, as the maintenance of equity provision assumes they do, he said.
Districts do build budgets based on staff counts, allocating staff to individual schools based on student ratios and other programs, but they don't typically prepare school-level budgets like what Congress intended with the maintenance of equity provision, Alderman said.
Julia Martin, legislative director at Brustein & Manasevit, a law firm specializing in education, workforce and grants management, said in an email the 30-day extension for district-level data for those exempt from the provision could help states but leaves little room to make adjustments before this coming school year.
She said there are also still questions around implementation and enforcement of maintenance of equity at the local and state levels, including the timing of when noncompliant districts would need to make changes to meet the provision's requirements.