The SNS Debate, Part Deux: Compliance vs. Kids

March 29, 2011 | By Thompson Education | Post a Comment

(This post was written by Andrew Brownstein, one of Thompson’s federal education policy editors, and originally appeared on Title I-Derland, Thompson’s blog on federal K-12 policy.) We know that Title I’s longstanding supplement-not-supplant (SNS) provision is good for auditors, monitors, lawyers, accountants and a bevy of mid-level bureaucrats. But is it good for kids?

That was the question posed during a recent panel discussion devoted to a provocative new paper by attorneys Melissa Junge and Sheara Krvaric of the Federal Education Law Group.

“The supplement-not-supplant challenge is that we actually spend so much time trying to defend how we do the work that it takes away from being thoughtful and progressive,” said Tony Smith, superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. “The intention of the statute is being interrupted by the compliance mechanism.”

Title I-Derland first reported on the paper yesterday. SNS was designed to maximize Title I’s impact by ensuring that federal dollars add to, rather than replace, state and local funds for underprivileged students. Since it focuses on individual goods and services, however, SNS compliance begins with a somewhat metaphysical question: “What would you have done in the absence of federal funds?’”

ED defined three typical scenarios under which it would “presume” supplanting to have occurred:

  1. Using Title I funds to pay for something that is required under other federal, state or local laws.
  2. Using Title I funds to pay for something supported last year with state or local funds.
  3. Using Title I funds to pay for services when a state, district, or school uses state or local funds to provide the same services to other students.

Sounds simple, right? Except it isn’t. As the paper notes, the requirement makes it difficult to use Title I funds for comprehensive programs. For example, ED has advised that it would constitute as supplanting the use of Title I funds to pay for services written into the individualized education plan of a student with disabilities, complicating the delivery of services to the large number of students eligible for both special education and Title I services.

SNS can also stifle innovation. If a district hires reading intervention specialists for a pilot project in its Title I schools, and that pilot proves successful, the district may be blocked from “scaling up” the pilot to all its schools. The district may have to pick up the entire tab, including the cost of the already-hired specialists, because using Title I funds to provide services for Title I students is considered supplanting when the district provides the same services to non-Title I students.

The burden of dodging such presumptions leads to what Junge calls “a culture of ‘No.’”

“This is what I find to be the tragedy,” she said. “It is often easier to pay for a field trip, a computer and God knows, you don’t want to know about T-shirts. That stuff is much easier to get through than formative assessment tools, language instruction experts, data analysts…those things we really need in our schools to upgrade our program.”

Check in at Title I-Derland for a look at ways to make SNS work better for students.

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