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Federal Policy Brief: Coordinating Spending

by Robert Avossa

As a funding cliff and other realities loom in the wake of massive education recovery spending, education leaders are now facing concerns over sustaining temporary, supplemental programs. Like going on a summer road trip, the ESSER journey is marked out with a clear start and stop, but it’s unclear for many which are the most effective routes, rest stops, and sites to see and learn from along the way.

One critical item to learn from now: certain cost-effective practices to continue to support and enrich student learning. How to education leaders learn from and reinvest in these effective routes to keep the journey going? One such approach is through coordinated spending. ESSER is more flexible than other ED programs, therefore it presents a unique opportunity to rethink and improve how and which services are delivered to students. This could come in the form of reallocation of funds from traditional ED grants through coordinated spending, often referred to as “braiding funds”. 

Coordinated spending allows systems to utilize two or more funding sources to support an initiative or critical activity proven to be successful. Through a facilitated process, system leaders can optimize resources and capitalize on proven impact benefits through a comprehensive needs assessment aligned methodology that compresses multiple supports to focus on targeted and strategic effects. 

Based on our analysis and preliminary work with states and LEAs, education leaders are using “rest stops” in their budgeting processes to plan for sustainability and taking in the sites of coordinating spending across multiple funding streams. Here are a few key approaches:

  1. Planning strategically and collaboratively 
  2. Familiarizing teams with spending possibilities 
  3. Engaging in Comprehensive Needs Assessment and alignment 
  4. Compression planning and collaborative implementation
  5. Employing a strong governance model.

As in planning for any good road trip, you have to plan. When you’re plan for sustainable federal spending, it is very important to consider that Federal grant programs are subject to a set of regulations known as the Uniform Grant Guidance (UGG). These rules apply in addition to Ed rules and they can have a direct effect on spending choices. Key among these rules, especially for coordinated spending, are the general criteria all costs supported with federal funds must satisfy, including that they be:

  • Necessary and reasonable for the performance of the federal award,
  • Allocable (timing of purchases/services), and
  • Adequately documented.

Coordinated spending and the braiding of funds poses opportunities for leaders to support navigating technical rules, overcoming decades old misperceptions about spending options, and rethinking how best to support vulnerable populations in the most effective ways. ESSER funding offers an unprecedented opportunity to innovate, exercise flexibility, and support LEAs in making strategic funding choices in relation to the needs of their students and families—now and well into our shared future education road trip.

Dr. Robert Avossa is a national educational consultant at K-12 Leadership Matters and former high-performing urban school superintendent who is widely recognized as a turnaround leader, strategic planning expert and authority.

Dr. Dana Godek is a national policy leader and expert on federal funding, structures, and system design.