oversight

Consolidated Education Planning: State Education Agencies' Implementation of Consolidated Planning at the Local Level

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-02-16.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States
GAO   General ACCOM~~~ Office
      Washington, D.C. 20648

      Health, Education and Human Setices   Division
      B-281888

      February 16, 1999

      The Honorable Richard W. Riley
      The Secretary of Education

      Subject:   Consolidated Education Planning: State Education Agencies’
                 Imnlementation of Consolidated Planning at the Local Level

      Dear Mr. Secretary:

      The Congress and the Department of Education have undertaken several
      initiatives to provide states and local school districts with greater flexibility.
      One such effort-the consolidated planning process-allows states and local
      school districts to submit a singleeonsolidated plan or funding application that       ’
      covers several federal programs rather than submitting separate documents for
      each program. Supporters of consolidated planning contend that it can
      encourage educators and administrators to think carefully about how federal
      programs can fit together to support a school district’s efforts to improve
      teaching and learning. However, in our work on the impact of federal
      requirements on local school districts, we obtained information that suggests
      that some state education agencies may not fully understand federal legislation
      related to consolidated p1anning.l Specifically, this letter describes how some
      states may not be fully implementing the provisions of federal law that allow
      local school districts to submit consolidated plans.

      In summary, under the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act, local school
      districts may submit a consolidated plan to the state when applying for funding
      from more than one ‘of several major education programs. However, although
      this federal law explicitly provides this option to school districts, some states
      may be denying their school districts the opportunity to use consolidated
      planning. In our survey of the 50 state education agencies, 7 states reported
      that they require school districts to submit separate plans for aIll the programs
      covered under the law. Consequently, local school districts in these states may
      be unable to take advantage of the increased program coordination and
      administrative savings that consolidated planning can provide. Although we

      ‘Elementarv and Secondarv Education: Flexibilitv Initiatives Do Not Address
      Districts’ Kev Concerns About Federal Reauirements (GAO/HEHS-98-232, Sept.
      30, 1998).

            GAO/HEHS-99-33R         Consolidated       Planning   for Education   Programs
B-281888

recognize that the Department has provided guidance to the states on this
topic, the Department may wish to consider increasing its technical assistance
efforts in this area.

BACKGROUND

To obtain funding for certain federal programs, school districts must submit
plans (sometimes also called funding applications) to the state or federal
government. These plans generally contain information on how the program
funds will be used, certifications that federally prescribed procedures will be
followed, and assurances that federal funds will be spent in accordance with
the purpose of the program. However, district officials and education experts
have expressed concern that the fragmented nature of the planning process not
only is unnecessarily resource-intensive but also may impede program
coordination. In recent years, the Congress and the Department have
attempted to improve the planning and application process for federal
programs. As a result, for some federal programs, local school districts are
now able to submit a single consolidated plan to receive funding from several
related programs rather than being required to submit separate documents for
each one.

The Elementary and Secondary Education.& of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by
the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994, allows a local school district that
applies to the state for funds under more than one of several major federal
education programs to combine its program plans into a,single consolidated
plan. These covered programs include (1) title I, part A, of ESEA, which
provides funding to help local school districts give additional assistance to
disadvantaged children; (2) title I, part C, of ESEA, which provides funds to
help local school districts educate migrant children; (3) title II of ESEA, the
Eisenhower Professional Development Program, which provides funding to
local school districts to provide teacher training and professional development;
 (4) title III, part A, of ESEA, the Technology for Education program, which
provides funds for purchasing information technology; (5) title IV, part A, of
ESEA, the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Program, which
provides funding for programs to prevent violence and substance abuse; and
 (6) title Vl of ESEA, Innovative Education Program Strategies, which provides
 funding to help school districts develop innovative programs in several areas,
 including adult education and family literacy.

Under ESEA, states may require school districts to submit consolidated plans
but cannot require them to submit separate plans for each of these covered
programs. Districts may also be required to include, or have the option of
including, additional programs in their consolidated plan, at the discretion of

2      GAOLEZEHS-99-33R      Consolidated   Planning   for Education   Programs
B-281888

the state education agency. For example, some states require districts to
combine their plans for ESEA programs with their Goals 2000 plan, and some
states allow districts to include the Perkins Act vocational education programs
in their consolidated plan.

SOME STATES MAY NOT ALLOW
DISTRICTS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF
CONSOLIDATED PLANNING

Although federal law gives local school districts the option of submitting
consolidated plans, some states may not be implementing this provision; as a
result, local districts may be denied the opportunity to use consolidated
planning. To gather data for our report on the impact of federal requirements
on school districts, we conducted a survey of officials in all 50 state education
agencies.2 Most states reported that they either required school districts to
submit consolidated plans or provided the districts with the option of
submitting a consolidated plan when applying for federal education funds.
However, seven states reported that they require school districts to submit
separate plans for all covered federal programs. A total of 10 states reported
that they require districts to submit separate plans for at least one of the
covered programs. As a result, the school~c@ricts in these states may be
unable to take advantage of the increased program coordination and decreased
paperwork requirements that consolidated planning can provide.

This situation may reflect states’ and school districts’ difficulties with obtaining
complete and current information on federal requirements. The number and
complexity of federal requirements, combined with challenges posed by staff
turnover, make keeping up with federal requirements a challenge for both state
and district staff. To provide information about the law, the Department has
issued guidance to the states on consolidated planning; however, some state
officials may not have obtained or used this information. The Department’s
guidance, which was distributed to all 50 states and posted on the
Department’s Web site, provides clear, explicit information on local school
districts’ option to use consolidated planning. Nonetheless, our survey results
showed that officials in at least 10 of the 50 states apparently do not
understand their obligation to allow districts to take advantage of the



2This survey was conducted in July 1998, and alI 50 states responded.
However, we did not independently verify the information provided in response
to the survey. For more information about the survey and about districts’ ’
reaction to consolidated planning, see GAO/HEHS-98-232.

3     GAO/HEHS-99-33R        Consolidated    Pl auniug   for Education   Programs
B-281888
consolidated planning option. The Department’s efforts to promote and
encourage consolidated planning are therefore unlikely to be fully successful.

Under these circumstances, the Department may want to consider expanding
its efforts to fully inform state and local officials that local school districts
should be given the opportunity to do consolidated planning. Additional steps
the Department might consider could include reissuing guidance, sending
additional materials to the states, emphasizing consolidated planning in
Department-sponsored conferences, and holding discussions of districts’
consolidated planning options during technical assistance and oversight visits
to state education agencies.

AGENCY COMMENTS

We provided a copy of this correspondence to the Department of Education for
its review and comment. In its comments, the Department stated that it
appreciates our recognition of its efforts to provide technical assistance on
consolidated planning. The Department also stated that it agrees with our
suggestion that it consider expanding its technical assistance in this area. The
Department stated that as part of this effort it will give careful consideration to
sending additional materials, holding discus$ons of districts’ consolidated
planning options during technical assistance and oversight visits to state
education agencies, enlistig the assistance of the Comprehensive Regional
Assistance Centers, and convening a technical assistance meeting.



We are sending this correspondence to appropriate congressional committees
and will make it available to others upon request. If you have any questions
about this correspondence, please call me at (202) 512-7014. Major
contributors include Harriet C. Ganson, Assistant Director, Sarah L. Glavin, and
Arthur T. Merriam, Jr.

Sincerely yours,


Carlotta C. Joy&r
Director, Education and
 Employment Issues



 (104952)

 4     GAOLHEHS-99-33R        Consolidated    Planning   for Education   Programs
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