University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

They Have the NSLA Funds – Now What?

In The View from the OEP on June 11, 2014 at 1:31 pm

On June 2nd, the ADE issued a report about NSLA (National School Lunch Act) expenditures across the state.

This report rises out of the need to make sure that NSLA funds are spent on resources for those students that they are meant to target, those who are eligible for a free or reduced price lunch. The report gives a brief overview of all of the possible ways that districts are allowed to spend these funds. Since this list might be interesting to many of our readers, we provide an abridged list here:

  • Literacy/Math/Science CoachesNSLA box
  • Professional Development
  • After-school Programs
  • Pre-K Programs
  • Tutors, Aides, or Paraprofessionals
  • Counselors or Nurses
  • Curriculum Specialists
  • Parent Education
  • Summer Programs
  • Intervention Programs
  • Supplement Salaries
  • And many more

All in all, there are 23 different categories, including “Other” that are eligible for funding. Also, there are 10 additional categories which repeat some from the original list, but have an emphasis on Special Education, bringing the total to 33 separate categories. The ADE specifies with almost every category that the investment must be in “research-based methods.”

Table 1. NSLA Funding by Year

NSLA by year_image

While it is likely true that research has been done on the programs found in the categories listed, we question which programs are most effective at closing the achievement gap. The fear is that these funds are “plugging budget holes” – funding programs that would have existed without the NSLA funds and that do not target economically-disadvantaged students. Part of the report that is useful in answering this question is the line-item budget forms for which categories the funds were spent in. Because the ADE divides the report between the tiers of concentration (90%<, 70-90%, >70%), it is easier to determine what categories are being utilized by the different concentration levels.

In the past, we have suggested that these categories be concentrated in order to better measure which programs best close the achievement gap. Also, part of this concentration of programs would be a concentration of resources specifically targeted towards the intended students. There is an obvious difference between a program that serves the entire student population and those that pay special attention to the proposed population. While those districts with 90%< eligible students do have an argument that a program that serves the entire student body does serve the intended students, we believe that this is the exception rather than the broad rule that should be applied to those districts that do not fall under this banner.

Altogether, we believe that this report is a good step towards accountability for NSLA and a more equitable system. There are other ways that this system could be improved (we might sound like a broken record on this issue, but we would continue to suggest a smooth curve rather than a step-ladder), but holding our current system accountable is good governance. We are glad to see an emphasis on “research-based methods.”

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