States could help plug those holes, but that will be tough given they are now facing their own budgetary headwinds.
For state leaders that want to continue supporting recovery efforts but don’t have new money to contribute, one option would be to take advantage of a provision in federal law called “Direct Student Services.” Originally authorized in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, the provision allows states to set aside up to 3% of their federal Title I allocation to provide direct supports to students and families.
The provision has not seen widespread take-up, but it’s well-suited to the current moment. And, given current funding levels, it could fund up to $550 million a year in direct student supports.
States that choose to take the set-aside must allocate the money to districts on a competitive basis. They must prioritize districts with a high percentage of schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support and award funds to a geographically diverse range of districts.
States must evaluate district proposals based on their strategies to target services to students who need the most support, as well as the district’s plans for outreach, implementation, and public reporting. States are also able to use a small portion of funds to support program implementation and monitoring and to compile and maintain a list of high-quality providers.
In turn, districts can use the funds to pay for a variety of student services, including high-dose tutoring programs, advanced courses (like AP, IB, or dual enrollment), career and technical courses, or credit recovery and academic acceleration courses that districts couldn’t otherwise offer.
(For more details on the program, see this 2016 report from Chiefs for Change.)
This all sounds great. So why wouldn’t all states take up Direct Student Services? Mainly because it’s not new money.
States that use the set-aside would essentially be taking a small amount of money away from most school districts in the state—money that they currently use at their own discretion—and instead concentrating it into a targeted, competitive program. Some state leaders may not like to rock the boat or suffer the political blowback.
Still, there’s an opportunity for innovative state leaders to step up and take bold action on behalf of kids who need more support. By taking at least some of the Direct Student Services set-aside, state chiefs could direct more money into personalized recovery efforts for the students who still need the most support.