K-12 ESSA Funding through the Lens of School Safety and Mental Health

Dr. Judy Riffle looks at how to use certain ESSA formula grants and Rural and Low-Income Schools funding for school safety and mental health.


According to the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) database, 17 school shootings have occurred in 2019 so far. In 2018, there were 97 shootings and in 2017 the number was 44. Important fact to remember: This CHDS school shooting database includes any time a bullet hits school property or when a gun is held or fired, including by law enforcement or School Resource Officers (SRO).

The Washington Post recently tracked school shootings for a year and found that over 221,000 children have been impacted by gun violence in schools since Columbine in 1999. While these statistics are alarming, it’s important to remember that school shootings are rare. In addition, school safety concerns encompass other issues such as suicide, bullying, harassment, sexual assault, cyberbullying, drug/alcohol abuse and mental health needs. Let’s consider K-12 school safety and mental health funding needs under the lens of the following Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) formula grants: Title I-A, Title II-A. Title IV-A, and Rural and Low-Income Schools (RLIS).

Title I-A

Title I (Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged of ESSA) “provides all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.” If you’ve been in education awhile, you are accustomed to thinking of this funding allocated towards literacy and math achievement, but it can be used for so much more such as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math), CTE (career technical education), civics, government, and health to encourage an enriched curriculum and educational experience. Under school safety and mental health, consider funding non-instructional expenses like student behavior/mentoring supports, positive school climate initiatives, counselors, and social-emotional learning (SEL).

Title II-A

Title II-A (Effective Teachers & Leaders) supports effective instruction through professional development. It funds strong teacher leadership, transformative school leadership, induction/mentorship, and meaningful evaluation and support. For states, Title II-A funding provides training to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse along with other evidence-based, allowable activities {ESEA Sec. 2101(b)(4)}. Allowable district and school activities related to school safety and mental health are {ESEA Sec. 2103(b)(3)(I)}:

  • Professional development (PD) to help teachers and leaders identify trauma and mental illness
  • PD for referring students/families for treatment and intervention
  • Collaboration between school mental health programs and mental health agencies
  • School climate concerns such as safety, peer relationships, drug/alcohol abuse, and persistent absenteeism
Title IV-A

Title IV-A is the Student Support & Academic Enrichment Grant (SSAEG), which focuses on three areas: well-rounded educational activities, safe and healthy students, and effective use of technology. Here is a handy one-page grant summary of allowable Title IV-A uses. Specifically, school safety and mental health fall under the grant purpose of “improve school conditions for student learning” (Sec. 4101, Purpose). Allowable activities include school mental health services, counselors, conscious discipline, restorative justice, violence prevention, and community partnerships. Other funding possibilities include:

  • Drug abuse prevention
  • Karate instructor
  • PD for social-emotional literacy, suicide prevention, classroom management, crisis management, conflict resolution, violence prevention, bullying/harassment prevention, drug abuse prevention
  • Promoting positive school climates
  • Dropout prevention/reentry projects
  • Anti-bullying/anti-harassment programs/materials
RLIS

The Rural and Low-Income School (RLIS) grant provides funds to improve student achievement and address personnel/resource needs of rural, low-income schools. RLIS allowable grant activities mirror those authorized under Title I-A, Title II-A, Title III, and Title IV-A. Note: If schools receive federal Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) funds, they cannot also receive RLIS funds in a single fiscal year. Examples of expenses funded include bullying prevention materials, school parent messenger system, security personnel, metal detectors, peer mediation, character education, safe zones, referral services, and trauma-informed training such as Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI).

Tip: Remember to justify any of the above expenses through your needs assessment like any other grant. Use evidence-based research, parent/student survey data, a school or district Emergency Response Plan (ERP), and a school safety/risk assessment.

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