The Every Student Succeeds Act: Opportunities for Music Educator Action

As we approach the first year of full implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), what should music educators monitor regarding their school, district and state ESSA work, and what opportunities can they act on within their school, their district, and their state? As with any new law, there are many possibilities and opportunities, but, as is always the case, the devil is in the details. Where to start?

State-Level Implementation

With a new leader for federal education now in place, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, we know more about how states will engage with ESSA implementation. And what we know is that the states can choose what they do and how they do it. Given the increased responsibility and flexibility handed to the states regarding ESSA, here are some tips on for what is going on at the state level, and some ideas about how you can get involved.

  1. Know what’s possible. Thirteen states sent their state plans to the U.S. Department of Education for approval by the April deadline. If you are in one of those states (see the table below), review the plan and see what your state has already included for music and arts education in your state plan. If you reside in Arizona, North Dakota, or Oregon, you may be aware that those states have also submitted as of the May deadline, and NAfME is reviewing those plans currently for information on where music education is supported in those plans. Contact for more information.

Music in State ESSA Plans

Music/Arts in Accountability?

Music/Arts in Dashboards/Report Cards?

Music/Arts in Title IV?

Music/Arts support Professional Development?

Music/Arts – 21stCentury Learning Community Centers?

Music/Arts for Homeless Children and Youth?

Music/Arts resources for Schools in Improvement?

















 District of Columbia














































 New Jersey





 New Mexico






















* Delaware is given an asterisk, for while music and arts education is not directly mentioned in the state ESSA plan, the Delaware Department of Education acknowledged the need to address issues raised by the music and arts education community and has committed to working with advocates on guidance or other support materials in the future.

As you can see by this table, many states have included music and arts education within their plans, particularly in the areas of accountability and funding under Title IV, Part A (see below for more information on Title IV). Share this information with your district, and thank your state education leaders for including music and arts education. If the information isn’t clear, or you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact your state education department to learn more about how they will support music and arts education via ESSA. You can find your state’s ESSA page and its plan here: 

  1. Stay in touch with your MEA’s state advocacy leadership and NAfME policy staff. Working with our Advocacy Leadership Force members in the states and sharing information between the states, the NAfME policy staff are always happy to help connect you into state level advocacy and help you share your expertise and advocacy ideas and suggestions. You can find your state advocacy leaders here: We suggest that you connect with your MEA leadership and learn how to get involved with the creation, revision and updates to your state’s ESSA plan. And you can reach the NAfME policy staff here:
  1. Ask your state to support music education via its ESSA plan! If you reside in a state not listed above, find out where your state is in the process of creating its plan for September submission to the U.S. Department of Education. You can begin by sharing the above table with your state education leaders, or with your state MEA leadership working to advocate for music education. Are there states listed here that your state attempts to emulate? Is there example language that you’d like to share? You can find quotes in support of music and arts education from the submitted state plans in the NAfME public policy bulletin here:
  1. Know how your state is going to manage their Title IV, Part A funds. For this first year of ESSA implementation, Congress did not fully fund the new federal block grant, which can support a well-rounded education, including music. The amount funded is small enough that Congress, for this year only, is allowing states to run competitive grants for Title IV funds instead of granting those funds out directly to districts. A state, for example, could focus the funds for certain areas of a well-rounded education or certain areas of educational technology, and then create a competitive grant application process where districts would have to compete against each other to receive the limited funds. In other words—the funds just won’t flow down to your district; your district might need to compete for the funds. You need to know what your state is planning to do and how it will handle these funds, as it will influence your work at the local level. You can reach out to your SEADAE member – the arts education consultant for your state—to find out more. A list of state arts education consultants can be found at

District-Level Implementation

  1. Be prepared for Title IV opportunities for music education within your district. ESSA includes a new funding opportunity for music education in Title IV-A, or chapter 4—21st Century Schools. This section of the law is greatly revised from prior versions, and includes a block grant, or direct funding to school districts, for supporting a well-rounded education. Because music is listed in the definition of a well-rounded education, music education can be supported by these block grant funds, with two caveats: one, music education needs have been identified through a district-wide needs assessment and two, these local, identified needs are not currently met with state and local funding, so would benefit from supplemental, federal funding. I encourage you to get involved in the Title IV needs assessment for your school district. And NAfME has a built-in tool to help you do that – the 2015 Opportunity-to-Learn Standards (OTLs). The OTLs list what resources are needed to carry out a quality music education program—everything from technology to facilities and instruments to student:teacher ratios. You can find the OTLs for your use with your district’s needs assessment for music/Title IV here:
    • And understand if the Title IV opportunity will be a block grant to your district—or something you for which you will have to apply. As noted above, states will have the option this year to compete out the Title IV funds instead of just giving them to your school district. Therefore, you will need to know how your state is handling the funds and if you can and should respond with a grant application to the state in order to receive supplemental funds from ESSA for music education (and other well-rounded subject areas) for your district. The competitive grants will most likely be available starting in the fall, so contact your SEADAE member ( to learn more about what your state plans to do.
  1. Ask for professional development support, which can be funded for music educators under ESSA. Funds from Titles I, II, and IV of ESSA can support professional development for educators, administrators and other school personnel. With the inclusion of music within the well-rounded education definition in the law, music educators are able to have professional development funded by these dollars now, too. As is the case with the Title IV funding, professional development funds will be prioritized for areas identified as having needs based on a district-wide needs assessment. So get engaged, and ask to be part of your district’s professional development needs assessment team for ESSA.

School-Level Implementation

  1. Understand how music education can now be supported under Title I of ESSA if you teach at a Title I School. The language for Title I schools has changed in ESSA to reflect the importance of a well-rounded education. Title I schools come in two varieties—schoolwide Title I schools and targeted assistance Title I schools. For the first time under ESSA, schoolwide Title I schools are encouraged to include information on how they provide well-rounded educational opportunities, including music education, to their students in their written Title I schoolwide plan. While this doesn’t necessarily mean Title I funds will support those well-rounded educational opportunities, it’s the first time that schools have been encouraged to include a wider range of curricular offerings beyond the tested subject areas within their Title I schoolwide plans. Also for the first time under ESSA, targeted-assistance Title I schools can use their supplemental federal Title I dollars to support well-rounded educational opportunities, including music, for their identified students. At targeted-assistance Title I schools, students receiving support through a Title I program are identified as the most academically at-risk students in their school based on academic achievement indicators, usually the tested subject areas. Traditionally, Title I funds in targeted- assistance schools have funded supplemental interventions in the tested subject areas. Under ESSA, well-rounded educational opportunities may also be funded for these identified students.
    • If you teach at a Title I schoolwide school, ask how music will be included in the 2017–2018 schoolwide plan as part of a well-rounded education. You can even offer to write that section of the plan if that’s okay—so that music gets listed and recognized as part of what your school does to support a quality education for all its students. [NOTE: your administrator may not even know that this is supposed to happen under the new law, so be ready to educate as well as ask!]
    • If you teach at a Title I targeted-assistance school, consider how supplemental music education could support the students identified as academically at risk. How else could you support them? How would these supports help them with the tested subject areas? Sharing this kind of information with your principal may help you access these dollars, and, more important, provide quality supplemental services to these students as they work to thrive in all aspects of their education.
    • And don’t be shy about reminding your administrator at your Title I school that ESSA provides protection from students missing music to receive remediation. Like No Child Left Behind (NCLB), ESSA retains language in Title I that discourages schools from providing interventions or remediation for students by pulling them out of “the regular classroom.”
  1. Share with your school leadership how music helps parents be engaged with your school. A large part of what schools are asked to do that receive ESSA funding is to make certain parents are engaged with the school. Music education is a place where this occurs through our performances, our parent volunteers and our parent boosters. You can help your school meet its parental engagement goal simply by sharing how many parents you reach—or by offering to help the school share information with parents during assemblies, concerts and performances. NAfME has a concert-flyer resource for your use to help your parents better understand ESSA, too. You can find the flyer here:

Conclusion—and Thank You!

While the above list might look daunting, we wouldn’t be able to share this variety of opportunities with you about the new federal education law if you hadn’t done your part with your fellow music education advocates and convinced Congress to include music in ESSA. The opportunities listed here are because of the work you undertook over the last decade to speak out about the importance of music education. To make those opportunities become a reality, work now needs to occur at the state, district, and school levels. You don’t have to do all of this—pick a place to focus and start there. And thank you again for making these opportunities possible. We look forward to learning what you do with them during this school year!

Lynn Tuttle, Director of Public Policy & Professional Development, May 24, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (