SSAE Grant and EdTech: How Funding Changes Under ESSA Give Districts More Flexibility

SSAE edtech grant Lexia

This blog is part 1 of a 2-part series on the Student Support & Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Grant. Read part 2 here: Helpful Resources for EdTech Implementation Using SSAE Grant Funds

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) officially goes into effect during the 2017–2018 school year, though it is being slowly phased in now. ESSA reauthorized national educational law while taking steps to better prepare students for life after high school than its previous iteration, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Specifically, ESSA makes substantial changes to how districts receive and can use funding for technology, and provides greater opportunities for student achievement and digital literacy. The major change comes from programs under NCLB being cut or consolidated into one large lump grant known as the Student Support & Academic Enrichment Grant (SSAE), a move that gives local education agencies (LEA) more autonomy in allocating funds to promote learning and develop 21st-century skills in students.


Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) 

Authorized at $1.65 billion, the SSAE grant is considered a flexible funding source, with funds for use in three areas:

  1. Promoting/providing opportunities for a well-rounded education

  2. Improving school conditions/developing safe and healthy students

  3. Encouraging the effective use of technology to increase digital literacy and enhance achievement

Funds will be made available to states and then districts through an application process, with the following required division of fund expenditure:

  • Well-rounded education: No less than 20% of funds (examples of use include STEM, music and arts, and college/career guidance programs)

  • Safe and healthy: No less than 20% of funds (initiatives may include evidence-based drug and alcohol prevention programs, as well as programs addressing bullying, suicide, mental health, etc.)

  • Effective use of technology: Districts must spend a portion of their funds on effective use of technology, though unlike the other two categories, there is no official minimum. There is, however, a cap of 15% on funds spent on technology infrastructure.

These minimum and maximum percentages are required for LEAs that receive more than $30,000 in SSAE grant money, while those that receive less may choose one or two areas of focus if desired. Districts awarded more than $30,000 will be required to complete a needs assessment every three years, and the first round of assessments must be completed prior to distribution of grant funds. The needs assessment will provide a foundation for determining district priorities with regard to technology integration and implementation.

Establishing effective use of technology through SSAE funds

With up to 60% of funds available to use in the area of technology, the SSAE grant offers considerable opportunity and flexibility in terms of improving access to and use of edtech in schools, as well as creating a high-quality, blended learning environment. Here are two aspects to keep in mind regarding SSAE funds and technology:

  1. With the funding cap at 15% for infrastructure, it will be important to maximize value by looking at programs and services that facilitate all aspects of ensuring effective technology use, such as digital learning programs that include:

    • Training for teachers

    • Assessments and data-tracking

    • Personalized learning for students

    • Access to high-quality and differentiated instruction

    • Opportunities for blended learning

  2. The remaining 85% of the SSAE grant funds designated for effective technology use need to be applied outside of infrastructure. SSAE places a premium on increasing the capacity of educators to utilize technology in the classroom through training and professional development.

The flexibility afforded by the block grant will be quite useful for supporting individual districts' visions for technology integration, allowing each to determine the best possible use of funds in preparing students, educators, and administrators for success. The SSAE grant offers a unique opportunity for districts to address gaping holes in edtech. Through thoughtful needs assessment and expenditure, district leadership will be able to make significant progress toward ensuring student success for all.

Read part 2 of the SSAE series for more information on helpful resources for edtech implementation using SSAE grant funds.

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