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SETDA Urges Congress to Continue to Invest in ESSA

SETDA sent the following letter today to Senator Blunt, Senator Murray, Representative Cole and Representative DeLauro urging Congress to continue investing in ESSA, Title II and IV:

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) represents state education agency technology leaders from across the United States. SETDA helps state leaders promote equity by sharing evidence-based ideas and resources and promoting multistate collaboration.  Our members support implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), including encouraging using the law to promote program alignment within their state agencies and working with local leaders to ensure teachers, students and their communities benefit from digital learning materials and other useful educational tools. Technology facilitates meaningful communication between schools and families, equips students, teachers and school leaders with useful data, and creates exciting and engaging instructional opportunities by connecting learners with a wide array of resources, including rich open educational resources. Our members’ work also includes providing advice about how states and districts can better use technology to satisfy important federal requirements, such as ESSA’s annual assessment, accountability, and reporting obligations.

Despite these advantages, federal education technology investments, including funding for badly needed professional learning, declined significantly over the past decade. Given this decline, we are alarmed by the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request, which proposes to compound the problem by eliminating funding for two important ESSA programs that support digital learning and related educator and leader capacity building: Title II-A and Title IV-A. We are writing to urge you to not only protect these essential investments but to increase them and encourage their aligned use. Digital learning materials, high capacity broadband, data use, and related professional learning are unevenly distributed across the country – falling especially short of needed levels in rural and poor communities – and greater federal funding is needed to help states and districts address this inequity.

ESSA, Title II-A, Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High-Quality Teachers, Principals, and Other School Leaders.

Congress used ESSA to consolidate or eliminate many programs but choose to maintain Title II-A as one of the law’s core pillars. Congress recognized that investing in educators’ professional capacity is a critical strategy for promoting student success, so it re-confirmed the federal commitment to helping teachers and school leaders better meet their students’ needs.  As states and school districts place a greater emphasis on digital learning, including using digital materials and offering beyond school learning opportunities, many educators need to acquire new or expanded skills, such as the ability to use digital tools, use data, protect student privacy and more. These needs are present in every state and school district and Congress can help state and local leaders meet them by providing $2.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2019 for the ESSA, Title II-A formula program.

State Title II-A Leadership

Alaska plans to use Title II-A funds to support a project to develop an online professional development network that allows teacher teams to support personalized professional learning. Learning paths for both ELA and mathematics have been developed using open source videos with interactive and discussion activities.

Mississippi plans to use Title II-A to help teachers and school leaders develop their technology skills to create vibrant, relevant environment for our digital native students. This work includes supporting high-quality professional learning for educators, school leaders, and administrators to personalize learning and improve academic achievement. The state plans to target help for students living in remote and underserved areas, so that they can benefit from high-quality digital learning opportunities.

Oklahoma plans to use Title II-A funds to provide guidance and collaborative opportunities to promote the effective use of technology that increases the likelihood of preparing all Oklahoma students for the future workforce. Specifically, the agency will build capacity both in computer science and open instructional materials, the OSDE encourages schools and districts creating and curating instructional materials to make use of the exciting #GoOpen campaign, of which Oklahoma is a partner state.

ESSA, Title IV-A, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants

Congress used ESSA to shift considerable education policy decision-making back to states and school districts. The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program, more than any other ESSA program, embodies this shift by serving as a flexible funding source for meeting an array of locally identified needs. Properly funded, the SSAEG program can help school districts and their state partners promote digital equity. The program supports modest technology infrastructure investments, while also investing in the digital transition, including developing and adopting open educational resources, improving data use and privacy protections, and strengthening science, technology, engineering and math education. The program is also a direct funding source for expanding computer science education and other skills focused initiatives designed to help students acquire the knowledge and skills they will need after graduation. Given the program’s potential to help states and districts meet these and other technology needs, we encourage Congress to provide $1.6 billion for the SSAEG program for Fiscal Year 2019.

State Title IV-A Leadership Examples

 Idaho plans to use Title IV-A funding to support school districts working to deliver equitable access to well-rounded educational opportunities and rigorous coursework in areas such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science. The Idaho Department of Education’s (ISDE) STEM Action Center will work collaboratively with districts to use Title IV-A to improve STEM instruction and learning.

Louisiana plans to use Title IV-A funds to support work with district to integrate technology into academic planning, delivery, and improvement. Technology is part of the Louisiana Department of Education’s annual collaborative priority setting and planning with LEAs. LDE staff work with LEA leaders to review annual technology indicators as reported in the LDE’s annual technology footprint report, and in tandem with reviews of student achievement data. They also plan to review and discuss readiness for online assessments, although the primary focus is on the availability and effective integration of technology in classroom instruction.

Maine plans to use Title IV-A funds to strengthen existing initiatives, including determining teachers’ needs and providing timely opportunities and support for continued improvement, such as using technology to improve student literacy. For example, the state will use Title IV-A funds for a pilot project, MoMEntum K-3 literacy, which will provide one-to-one iPad technology for students and professional learning for teachers in how to use technology to boost student literacy.

Thank you for carefully considering SETDA’s recommendations. When schools appropriately use technology, it accelerates, amplifies, and expands access to effective practices that will provide for a well-rounded education and increase engagement for all students. Our members strongly support this vision and believe these programs play a critical role in helping states and districts successfully implement ESSA. We would be pleased to provide you more information about how our members plan to work with their districts to use these funds and welcome any questions you may have about how the programs are being implemented nationally.

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