Show Me (How to Get) the Money: A Look at New Federal Funds for Music Education

federal funds music education

By Marcia Neel, Heather Mansell, and Dr. Dave Gerhart

Most educators are not aware that billions of dollars in federal funding are available for schools and districts to use to support arts education. Thus, it’s important to plan with school administrators about how this funding can support music education. Plus, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), music became part of what is now defined by law as one of the subjects that provide students with a well-rounded education.

Presented below are tips for unlocking these federal funding resources, in addition to the steps you can take to start communicating your program’s needs and requesting support.

COVID-19 Relief Funds

The Big Questions

What is ESSER?
ESSER is the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund established as part of the federal COVID relief bills passed in the last year: the CARES Act, CRRSA Act, and ARP Act. These funds address the impact of COVID-19 on education. The key is that these are one-time, user-it-or-lose-it grants. Another important point to clarify is that this money is not associated with Title I Funding. Time is of the essence. If the money is not spent, it will go back to the federal government. Here is a breakdown of the amount of money allotted for K-12 education as part of ESSER:

  • ESSER I – $13.2 Billion
  • ESSER II – $54.3 Billion
  • ESSER III – $122.0 Billion
  • Grand Total = $189.5 Billion

Why should I care?
ESSER funds assist in the planning for a safer return to in-person learning and addressing the needs of the students including their social, emotional, and mental health needs—particularly those who have been disproportionately impacted. These funds can be used to support music programs! This is the most federal funding that has ever been available for K-12 education, and many teachers and administrators don’t know that they are available or how to access them. 

Who is eligible?
Public, charter, and nonprofit K-12 schools. Nonprofit schools are eligible for funds under the Emergency Assistance for Nonpublic Schools (EANS) program.

Who requests these funds?
Teachers need to get involved in the process to communicate their program needs. Principals, VAPA coordinators, or district administrators will make the request for funds. 

How do I know what’s allocated to my district?
Google “[Name of your state] Department of Education ESSER.” Each state’s Department of Education will have this information publicly available on its website. 

ESSER Funding Examples:

  • Additional instruments and equipment to eliminate sharing
  • Technology and EdTech
  • PPE, cleaning, sanitation
  • Facilities improvements
  • Instructional support
  • Programs to address learning loss (students)
  • Planning for next year (teachers), including hiring new staff and avoiding layoffs

Title IV-A Funds: Part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Unlike the COVID-relief funds, which are one-time, use-it-or-lose-it funds, ESSA funds are available on an annual basis. Title IV-A  supports 3 broad categories for students:

  1. Well-Rounded Education: This specifically includes music and art, in addition to health education, physical education, Career and Technical Education, and more.
  2. Safe and Healthy Schools: Includes mental health services, violence protection, safety initiatives, and more.
  3. Technology: Includes instructional support, professional development, personalized learning, virtual learning, digital devices, and more.

How does Title IV-A funding work?
Title IV-A funding rules are divided into two tiers:

  1. Request for funds below $30,000: No formal needs assessment is required. The funds may be spent on any of the 3 categories above, with a 15% cap on Technology (waived for this year).
  2. Requests for funds above $30,000: A formal needs assessment is required.

    1. 20% of funds must go toward Well Rounded Program needs.
    2. 20% of funds must go toward Healthy Schools programs.
    3. 60% of funds can go to all three areas with a portion going toward Technology.  (waived for this year).

Examples of Title IV-A Funding
Very similar to the relief funds, but think more long-term and what these funds can mean year over year:

  • Teacher professional development such as clinics, in-services, workshops
  • Musical instruments such as strings, band, percussion, keyboards
  • Adding or expanding music courses such as guitar program, piano lab, modern band ensembles, mariachi, etc.
  • Supplies and textbooks like sheet music, stands, and accessories
  • Technology programs like music notation, audio editing, audio listening equipment
  • Facilities upgrades like acoustic panels, storage, etc.

Key steps in the process:
Federal $$$ State allocation District allocation Schools Programs

Steps for teachers to take:

  1. Meet with your fellow music teachers, principals, and district coordinators (VAP, C&I).
  2. Perform a needs assessment to come up with a priority list.
  3. Share the priorities with your supervisor/district’s grant personnel.
  4. Keep going! This is an annual process that you will want to plan for each year.

Real-World Applications

Self-Reported Outcomes: 2019 NAMM Foundation Title IV Survey Summary

See below to learn how much money various schools and districts received in 2019 and how they used the funds.

Butte County Office of Education received $2.83 million that helped provide professional development to align with state art standards and instructional supplies including instruments, potters’ wheels, and theater lighting.

10 rural school districts received $250,000 that helped fund teachers, instruments, professional development, a DOE state arts specialist, online courses for all teachers in the state, and virtual arts courses for high school students.

Montgomery County Public Schools was granted $70,783 that went toward developing curriculum, increasing staff, purchasing instructional materials.

New York
Rochester City Schools received $1.7 million that went toward providing professional development, hands-on learning materials, and expanding course offerings.

North Carolina
Davidson County Schools (36 schools) was granted $159,235 which helped to fund additional collaborative time for teachers, new instruments and sheet music, art supplies, and AV/theater equipment and materials. 

Dayton Public Schools received $200,000 that helped improve instruction and increase access and equity to the arts (materials, instruments, professional development, and staffing).

Additional Resources:

Watch the Session from SmartMusic Connect!

dGerhartDr. Dave Gerhart
As Assistant Marketing Manager, Education, and lecturer at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSU, Long Beach, Dr. Gerhart is a nationally recognized performer, composer, and educator. He holds a D.M.A. in Percussion Performance from USC with an emphasis in Music Education.


hmansellHeather Mansell
As Marketing Manager, Education, Ms. Mansell has helped to shape education initiatives company-wide. An alumnus of the University of Toronto with over 17 years in the music industry, Heather was recently named one of the 2020 NAMM Show’s “Smart Women in Music.”


mneelMarcia Neel
A veteran educator and arts supervisor in Las Vegas, Neel is president of Music Education Consultants, Inc. which provides educational services to school districts. In 2016, Marcia was named Yamaha’s Senior Director of Education. She also serves on the PAS Board of Directors.

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