Teacher with kids and instruments

Title IV Part A: A Look at New Federal Funds for Music Education

By Laurie T. Schell for Music & Arts

If you’re a music and arts education enthusiast, then you’re cheering about Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal law that governs elementary and secondary education in the United States.

The big win for advocates is that music and arts are called-out in the description of a well-rounded education, resulting in greater opportunities for the arts to be recognized as essential to a complete education and funded accordingly.

According to the Arts Education Partnership, “In 1995, federal education law introduced the arts as a part of the definition for core academic subjects. With the adoption of ESSA in 2015, the term core academic subjects was replaced with a new term, well-rounded education, and expanded to 17 subjects, including the arts and music. Appearing more than 20 times throughout the law, a well-rounded education opens many doors to expand arts learning opportunities for students across the country.”

As defined in ESSA “the term ‘well-rounded education’ means courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.” (ESSA, Title VIII, Section 8002)

kids in a hall way with instruments

New Funding Opportunity

One of the best things about ESSA is a new grant opportunity for subjects that are considered well-rounded. Known as the Student Success and Academic Enrichment Grant program (SSAE), funded through Title IV Part A, the intent of this flexible block grant is to provide:

  1. Access to, and opportunities for, a well-rounded education for all students.
  2. School conditions for student learning in order to create a healthy and safe school environment.
  1. Access to personalized learning experiences supported by technology and professional development for the effective use of data and technology.

In the first year of implementation, Title IV-A received only $400 million in funds for distribution to the states. Due in large measure to vigorous advocacy from National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) and National Association for Music Education (NAfME), funding for Year 2 was $1.1 billion, almost reaching the full authorization level of $1.6 billion. Going forward, school districts will receive $1.17 billion for the coming school year 2019-20. Note: The budget cycle for the federal government (start date Oct. 1) is different from most school districts (start date July 1). Check out this infographic from the Title IV-A Coalition for a visual representation of the funding.

SSAE funds are distributed to the states. Each state must then distribute 95% of the funds as block grants to local education agencies (LEAs). The allocation amount is based on the Title I funding formula. It isn’t always easy to find information on district allocations. If your state department of education does not provide the information, it may be best to start locally. Ask your school district.

With greater emphasis on state and local responsibility and accountability in ESSA, the SSAE/Title IV grant program provides a rigorous set of guidelines but allows local education agencies (LEAs) to decide on local priorities that align with the intent of the program.

Funding requirements

Here’s where it gets a little complicated, so bear with me.

To receive the state allocation of Title IV Part A funds, districts (not school sites) must submit an application. Funds are distributed based on needs and priorities of the district as stated in the application process. Deadlines vary by state.

For any district allocated more than $30,000, a needs assessment is required that makes the case for funding in the three areas mentioned above (well-rounded, safe and healthy schools, and/or technology). Simply put, a needs assessment is a gap analysis of district goals vs. current programs and activities. It may also document barriers that prohibit students’ access to a well-rounded education, such as no music at the elementary level, for example. Additional requirements include:

  • Engage stakeholders for input
  • Prioritize distribution of funds
  • Allocate no less than 20% on well-rounded education programs and activities
  • Allocate no less than 20% on safe and healthy school programs and activities
  • Allocate a portion of the remaining funds on effective use of technology

The state reviews the district’s application, to ensure compliance and alignment with the goals of Title IVA. Once the application is approved, districts will receive funds and implement the plan. Districts must evaluate the outcomes of the expenditure to ensure the programs and activities continue to serve the needs as described in the application.

The application itself is no cake walk; it is rigorous and thorough.

The good news for those of us who sit outside the school district is that stakeholder engagement is baked into the process with required sections on outreach to stakeholders and partners.

kids with instruments

Allowable expenditures

The big takeaway here is that Title IVA funds must “supplement, not supplant” state and local dollars. So, a district would not be allowed to use Title IVA funds to purchase beginner flutes that are already purchased by the district with local funding, for example. Or move an existing arts position from local to federal funds. Title funds must be seen as expanding, augmenting, increasing, or extending a program, not supplanting it.

It goes without saying that all expenditures must contribute to achieving the project goals and activities allowable within the grant guidelines. Based on an overview of districts who are using Title IVA funds, the expenditures are being utilized (i.e., “allowable”) for equipment and supplies (including instruments), instructional materials, curriculum development, professional learning, and service contracts with commercial or nonprofit partners. Funding may be allowed for staffing, pending the “supplement, not supplant” rule.

Success Stories

instructor with teacher


California Department of Education awarded $44 million in competitive grants to school districts and county offices of education for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant (SSAE), which provide funding for well-rounded education, student health and safety, and technology. Arts education was specifically called out as a funding priority within the well-rounded option.

SSAE is a result of the passage of SB 933, authored by Senator Ben Allen, sponsored by the California Alliance for Arts Education and supported by advocates all over the state. Fifty-three grants were awarded, with 30 of those grants being in the Part A/Well-rounded category. Grant amounts ranged from $500,000 to $2.4 million. (Source: California Alliance for Arts Education)

Davidson County, North Carolina

Davidson County Schools (NC) completed a comprehensive needs assessment survey as a part of their application for Title IVA funds, led by James Daugherty, district arts coordinator and past president of North Carolina MEA. The needs assessment survey included input from a stakeholder group representing students, parents, principals, instructional program specialists, a faith- based organization, community-based organizations, and representation of local government. (Source: NAfME toolkit)

As a result of the needs assessment process, Title IVA fund allocations included: additional planning and collaboration time for arts teachers, new general music instruments for elementary classrooms, band equipment and instruments, sheet music for choir programs, consumable materials for visual arts, sound system for a high school, and instructional materials for theatre classes.


The Georgia Department of Education designated $250,000 from their Title IV, Part A set aside to fund 10 competitive $25,000 grants to schools in rural parts of the state where little arts education is taking place. The money can be used towards part or full-time positions if the school did not have the position in the past, equipment and instruments, fine arts specific staff development, or Advanced Placement certification in one of the five fine arts courses currently certified by the College Board. (Source: NAfME toolkit)


Districts throughout Pennsylvania reported success in securing Title IVA funds for music and the arts. Examples include: a band and drama camp workshop, additional equipment for band and chorus program, a new piano, a pilot theatre partnership with a community theatre, and teacher professional development. (Source: PMEA)

Opportunities for You

Become an advocate. Title IVA funding is not a guarantee. As you know, the federal budget is proposed annually by the executive branch and amended/approved by Congress to be signed by the president. It’s a long game, with high stakes. As noted earlier, we have proof that advocacy for music and arts education is effective. If an item is cut from the president’s proposed budget, it can be (and has been) reinstated by Congress.

  • Get involved with your favorite advocacy coalition, such as NAMM, NAfME, state music education professional associations, or local and state advocacy groups.
  • Sign up for The NAMM Foundation’s monthly newsletter.
  • Get to know like-minded folks who are forming advocacy coalitions. (See NAMM’s Coalition on Coalitions.)

Start asking questions. Public education in this country is just that—public. As a member of the public, you’ll find (hopefully) that school districts want to be helpful. If you aren’t sure who to call in your local district to get the ball rolling, you might start by asking the central office:

  • Who’s in charge of federal programs?
  • Do we have a music/arts coordinator?
  • Who can I talk to about Title IV funding?
  • Ask a music/arts educator for suggestions. They will know about the management structure of the district.

Be informed. Federal funding grants used to be the purview of education insiders. It was (and still is somewhat) a mystery to regular folks. All that is changing with ESSA. With regular and ongoing opportunities for public input, we have the opportunity to engage in the conversation. With music and arts included as well-rounded subjects and the chance to help create the narrative of what a quality education looks like, we have an even greater foothold. 

  • Sign up to receive news and advocacy updates from your state music education association.
  • Follow NAMM and NAfME on social media to stay up-to-date on national events.
  • Host a briefing event at your location to bring stakeholders together.

What will you do?

How will you commit to advancing your knowledge of and engagement in the Title IVA conversation? Hopefully, your interest is sparked, and your enthusiasm is high. You can see the possibilities of success!

As they say in the Temporal Mechanics Department: there's no time like the present.
Star Trek: Voyager [1995]


Music & Arts trained educational representatives can help you with instrument rentals, classroom repairs, and music program recruitment. Our representatives have various backgrounds in music and education, who want to support you as a music educator. Music & Arts educational representatives can help you with any of your music needs.

In addition, Music & Arts has partnered as a vendor to Adopt-A-Classroom. Music educators can now use their Adopt-A-Classroom funds to purchase accessories, books, woodwind, brass, string and percussion instruments for their classroom.

About the author

Laurie Schell is founding principal of Laurie Schell Associates | ElevateArtsEd, providing consulting services and issue expertise in coalition building, public policy and advocacy, governance and strategic planning, and program development with a focus on arts education.