The 411 on Federal Funding

Funding, whether we like it or not, plays a critical role in nurturing the artistic talents of students and enriching music education programs. As school budgets become increasingly strained, resources for music education are at a serious risk. We all know that music programs are essential for a well-rounded education—they foster creativity, improve academic performance, and enhance our students’ emotional development. However, music programs are often one of the first things on the chopping block.

The good news is that funding is available; you just have to know where to look and how to access it for your program’s needs. In this series, we’ll look at different sources of funding, where to find others and give you some ideas on how you can get the funding your program(s) need.

Let’s start at the top, with Federal Funding. 

Currently, there are two main funding sources for Music Education programs: ESSER and ESSA. ESSER is temporary and ESSA is built into the law and is renewable in the Federal budget each year. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Elementary and Secondary Education Relief funding (ESSER)

What is ESSER? 

ESSER funding is funding that was included in a variety of Covid Relief Acts passed by the Federal Government. There were a total of three rounds, each round providing an increased total amount of funding. 

Deadlines to allocate the funds for the first two rounds have passed, but the deadline for schools to obligate (but not necessarily spend) ESSER III funds is September 30, 2024.   

Similar to ESSER I and ESSER II, state agencies, school districts, and other subrecipients of ESSER III funding can request up to 14 months’ extension, on a case-by-case basis, for liquidation of funds. Funds must still be obligated by September 30, 2024, but approval of the extension would shift the spending/liquidation deadline from January 2025 to March 2026.

The Letter sent to State Agencies re: the extension can be read here. Q&A information re: the extension for States can be found here.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Music and the arts are recognized as integral components of a well-rounded education within the law, a designation that was previously referred to as core academic subjects. This inclusion is significant as it clarifies the importance of music as a subject and acts as a powerful advocacy tool, linking those programs directly to funding sources. Within the Every Student Succeeds Act, there are specific titles that outline access to funds for music programs. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has compiled this document that details the specific sections within each title pertinent to music and the arts. Here’s the list of Titles that funding can come from.

  • Title I: Improving Basic Programs Operated by State and Local Educational Agencies
  • Title II: Preparing, Training, Recruiting High-Quality Teachers, Principals, or Other School Leaders
  • Title IV: 21st Century Schools
  • Title VI: Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education
  • Title VIII: General Provisions

The Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative

This is a Federal Program that supports local afterschool, before-school, and summer learning programs. Programs supported include academic enrichment activities covering a broad array of services, that include art and music programs. 

Each state receives funding from the Federal Government that is calculated based on its share of Title I funding for low-income students. 

You can learn more about 21st CLCC here.

How do you access Federal Funding?

Federal funding can be complicated. Typically, federal funds are passed from the Federal Government to State Governments, who then follow a process by which they distribute funding to each local education agency (LEA). The requirements to access those funds can vary by state. The good news is you should be someone other than the expert here. Here’s what you should know:

  1. These funds exist. 
    1. ESSER has a looming deadline (Sept 30, 2024).
    2. Title IV, II, and I are likely your best bet for ESSA funding.  
  2. The law specifically states that music is an approved use of these funds.
    1. ESSER follows ESSA rules as to what is an allowable use of the funding.
  3. Who to talk to: start with these colleagues, in this order.
    1. Fine Arts or Music Administrator
    2. Principal
    3. The District Federal Funding Officer—There are many titles, and many different people fill this role from District to District. Generally speaking, start with whoever handles your Title I funding.

If you want to learn more here are some guides and toolkits published by NAfME that provide further details. 

NAfME ESSA Toolkit


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