In December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind as the nation’s guiding federal education law. It created the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program (SSAE), a block grant program under Title IVA of the law.

According to Afterschool Alliance, The SSAE program received an authorized funding level of $1.65 billion when ESSA was signed into law. But the program was severely underfunded in its first year, receiving an appropriation of only $400 million. In March 2018 a budget deal was signed into law that included a significant increase to the SSAE grants program. The current appropriated funding is $1.17 billion.

There are three components to SSAE: well-rounded education; safe and healthy schools; and effective use of technology. Every school district can access at least $10,000 to invest in these areas via SSAE. $30,000 or more can be allocated to districts willing to conduct a needs assessment at least every three years and allocate 20% of the funds on each area: The remainder can be allocated as desired with a maximum of 15% on educational technology.

So let’s break down what each area means.

According to the National Center on Safe and Supporting Learning Environments, a ‘‘well-rounded education’’ includes courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as health education, English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.

The term ‘‘safe and healthy” refers to a school environment that fosters a safe and supportive environment for learning, student physical and mental health, and any other activities that cut across both those areas as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to a safe and healthy educational experience.

“Effective use of technology” can be understood as promoting digital literacy of all students and providing professional development to the educators that teach and support them.

At Lessonbee, our mission to create learning environments where students are healthy and feel safe and supported is aligned with the goals of ESSA. Our health education curriculum combined with our reflective learning platform provides a holistic approach to improving school culture. Student reflections are proven to effectively inspire and enhance dialogue between the teacher and student. When students can share their personal experiences and connections, ask extended questions, and get feedback from teachers and peers online in a safe and private environment, it creates a more positive school climate.

Ultimately, the most important thing for educators to know in order to take advantage of federal ESSA funding is that you have to start planning early. Identify vendors that you want to work with and ask about conducting a pilot. At Lessonbee we offer a pilot program that allows school districts to try our solution in exchange for regular teacher and student use and feedback. Wherever you seek to use your funds, make it a priority to get the necessary stakeholders involved early on to ensure that funds are earmarked appropriately.

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