Granting Administrative Flexibility for Better Measures of Success

On February 28, 2011, the President issued a memorandum to Federal agencies entitled “Administrative Flexibility, Lower Costs, and Better Results for State, Local, and Tribal Governments.” In that Memorandum, the President asked Federal agencies, in consultation with State, local, and tribal governments, to take actions that would provide increased flexibility—where it will yield the same or improved outcomes at lower cost—in Federal programs administered by State, local, and tribal governments.

As part of its efforts to meet the objectives of the Memorandum and to encourage the greater use of existing flexibilities, the Department is writing today to solicit ideas for three different types of pilot projects. Two of these types of projects would allow for the relaxation or waiver of requirements related to either (1) time-and-effort reporting under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-87 or (2) the documentation or demonstration of compliance with other administrative record-keeping and reporting requirements similar to time and effort. In exchange for granting flexibility in either of these areas, the Department would require entities selected for a pilot project to use alternative methods of ensuring that Federal education dollars are appropriately used to meet overarching program goals—for example, by measuring outputs or improvements in student achievement associated with Federal investments. The Department is looking for examples of burdensome administrative record-keeping and reporting requirements as well as ideas on what alternative methods for ensuring proper oversight of Federal funds might be.

The Department is also interested in ideas for a third type of project that would consider better mechanisms for taking advantage of the existing flexibility that allows for the consolidation of funds by schools that operate a Title I, Part A (Title I) program under the Schoolwide Programs authority in section 1114 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA). This flexibility can reduce requirements associated with time-and-effort reporting, in addition to providing other benefits. The Department is also interested in ideas for how we could better promote this existing but underutilized consolidation authority.

Based upon ideas received in the three areas listed above, the Department will solicit applications for a small number of pilot projects. Pilot projects may be led by State educational agencies, local educational agencies (LEAs or school districts), or consortia of LEAs within a State. The Department believes that pilot projects can help identify best practices as well as options for amending time and effort and other reporting requirements more generally. These efforts will seek alternative ways to reach the same goals as time-and-effort reporting—strong and transparent fiscal accountability—while placing a greater focus on measuring the results the programs are designed to achieve. By reducing reporting burden and replacing it with more effective alternatives, States and districts will have the opportunity to realize efficiency gains and cost savings, an important objective in a time of constrained resources. Comments received in response to this post will inform that solicitation, but we cannot guarantee that all ideas put forth will be reflected in the project solicitation. Each of the anticipated project types is described in greater detail below.

(1) Alternatives to time-and-effort reporting that track measurable and meaningful outcomes
Time-and-effort reporting is a government-wide requirement that provides a uniform approach for allocating costs. This means being able to verify that individuals whose salaries are supported by a Federal program are spending the appropriate amount of time carrying out the allowable activities of that program.

Though time-and-effort reporting is intended to ensure the proper allocation of Federal funds, we have heard that the process of fulfilling its documentation requirements can be overly burdensome. This type of reporting also does not provide information on the services given or, more importantly, the impact of those services on the students who are the intended beneficiaries of the Federal funds. Consequently, we are interested in exploring alternatives under which we would waive the requirement for time-and-effort reporting in exchange for grantees providing strong performance-based reporting and auditing. This could, for example, include developing a new set of indicators—using existing student performance data available to schools or using newly collected data—that would provide information to auditors and others on areas such as the achievement of students served by the relevant Federal programs. We encourage ideas for employing existing data in innovative ways and bringing together traditionally separate reporting systems to produce a fuller picture of how Federal funds are used to benefit the students they are intended to serve.

The Department is interested in both general comments and specific recommendations on the design elements of this pilot. Recommendations might include suitable outcome measures for the students served under affected programs, how progress will be determined, and how much progress is sufficient. We are also interested in the identification of barriers that might prevent implementation and what role the Department can play in relieving these barriers.

(2) Alternatives to other administrative record-keeping and reporting requirements similar to time and effort that utilize measurable and meaningful outcomes
In addition to time-and-effort reporting, the Department has other standards for administrative record keeping and reporting. These standards are also intended to ensure the proper use of Federal dollars and protect the taxpayers’ interests. And in many cases Federal requirements defer to State standards or requirements. Nonetheless, we are concerned that there may be record-keeping and reporting requirements that are particularly time-consuming, not aligned with State or local fiscal accounting needs, or ineffective at producing data that are relevant and useful to the State or district. We believe that there could be ways to reduce these administrative record-keeping and reporting requirements while still ensuring the proper use of Federal funds. Successful ideas in this area would be ones that do not change overall policy requirements—such as serving students from low-income families—but instead find better ways to demonstrate compliance.

(3) Better ways to take advantage of, or promote, the existing flexibility allowing the consolidation of funds in schoolwide program schools
The ESEA allows a school that has at least 40 percent students from low-income families to operate Title I as a schoolwide program. This program allows a school to use Title I funds, together with other Federal, State, and local funds, to upgrade its entire educational program in order to improve the academic performance of the lowest-achieving students. Implementing a schoolwide program provides Title I schools with significantly more flexibility in the use of Title I and other Federal funds. A school implementing a schoolwide program may consolidate Federal funds with State and local funds and spend those funds to carry out its schoolwide plan, which must be designed to meet the needs of students in the school, as identified through a comprehensive needs assessment. If a school consolidates its Federal funds, it is exempt from most of the statutory and regulatory requirements of the Federal programs whose funds are consolidated, provided the school meets the intent and purposes of those programs. Moreover, the school need not maintain separate fiscal accounting records by program that identify the specific activities supported by the Federal funds. For example, personnel in a schoolwide program school that consolidate Federal, State, and local funds generally do not have to keep time-and-effort records. (See Non-Regulatory Guidance, Title I Fiscal Issues, page 49, available at http://www2.ed.gov/programs/titleiparta/fiscalguid.pdf.)

Currently, only a small number of schools are taking advantage of the flexibility to consolidate funds. We are interested in understanding why this flexibility is not used more often and what can be done to better promote it. The Department would particularly like to know if there are barriers at the State or district level to implementing this flexibility and, where appropriate, what role the Department can play in reducing these barriers. In addition, we are interested in ideas for pilot projects that would present better ways of consolidating funds, consistent with the law, to encourage more eligible schools to use this flexibility.

Principles for idea development

Below are three principles that we ask commenters to consider in developing pilot ideas. In addition, we ask that all project ideas submitted include descriptions of how they will result in a quantifiable reduction in burden, especially in terms of time saved for teachers so they can focus more time on student learning, and in terms of any cost savings.

Provide evidence that funds are producing outcomes tied to overall program goals. We are interested in ideas for projects that waive or reduce administrative record-keeping and reporting requirements in exchange for providing outcome-based evidence about the effectiveness of Federal programs. We can envision a number of ways projects could follow this principle. For example, a district might measure whether teachers supported by specific Federal programs contribute to raising student achievement for individuals served by those programs. Or a district might choose to break down existing data on academic outcomes in a new way to show that students receiving services under a Federal program are demonstrating improved results.

Encourage the use of data and the development and linkage of data systems. We are interested in ideas for projects that would use data systems to automate the time-and-effort reporting process. For example, rather than having teachers fill out time sheets, districts might document time and effort through a process in which personnel, financial, and student databases connect so that a district can generate reports to demonstrate that teachers supported by Federal programs are serving students who are eligible to receive benefits under those programs.

Pursue reforms that have long-term efficiency and productivity benefits. Related to the data system principle outlined above, we are interested in ideas for projects whose initial efforts would lead to greater benefits in the long run, especially in terms of burden reduction, efficiency, and productivity. For example, a data system that meets the time-and-effort reporting requirements by connecting personnel, financial, and student learning databases could be later employed for performance-based budgeting to ensure that highly effective teachers are equitably distributed or to provide achievement information that can drive practice.

Process for submitting ideas
The Department is encouraging all interested parties to submit, in the comment section below, ideas about pilot projects in the three areas described above. We ask that States, districts, schools, and others consider the principles outlined above as they think about creative ideas in the three areas. In addition, ideas submitted for the first two project types should include new measures of ensuring that Federal education dollars are being appropriately used to meet overarching program goals. We encourage an active and open dialogue on the ideas that are generated in order to help us bring the most promising ideas forward for action.

Guidelines for Submission

So that we receive ideas in the most usable format, we are asking respondents to follow certain guidelines when posting ideas. Please include the following information in a clearly identified manner:

  • Your organization
  • The Federal program(s) involved
  • The specific burden you are addressing with your proposed project
  • Your idea related to that burden
  • What requirements or burdensome elements you would need waived by the Department, OMB, or your State in order to move forward with your idea or pilot project
  • The process you would use for establishing goals and measuring outcomes if your pilot idea were implemented

As an alternative to submitting comments on this post, respondents may submit ideas or questions directly to the Department by sending an e-mail with the above information to BurdenPilots@ed.gov. Please note that portions of ideas submitted via e-mail may be posted on the blog to encourage discussion.In order to provide additional time for interested parties to develop and submit ideas we will continue to accept comments on a rolling basis.

Disclaimer

The implementation of a pilot project pursuant to this notice will not affect any State- or district-level statutory or regulatory requirement related to Federal civil rights laws, providing a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities, or serving English Learners in accordance with the law.

6 Comments

  1. Former district administrator – Director of Special Revenue Projects
    Programs and topics – ESEA Programs – Consolidation of Funds in Title I Schoolwide Projects
    As a district administrator in SC, I worked with the SCDE and the USED to develop a process for the consolidation of federal funds in Title I schoolwide programs. The process is still being used in that district. My comments relate to my experience of the benefits and the process of consolidating funds.
    As a start it is important for districts and schools to understand the concept of Title I schoolwide projects (the instructional program and student acheivement are a given in this discussion) and then the additional possibilities that come from consolidation. Even from the USED it is sometimes unclear as to their defining a schoolwide. Recently there was a letter from the USED that said Title I funds in a schoolwide should not be used to support programs for gifted students – to me – that letter goes against everything I know about the use of funds consolidated or otherwise in schoolwide projects. This is an example of why district and school staff are reluctant to “go out on a limb.”
    From a school point of view, the consolidation of funds is fairly easy to understand and implement for the instructional program. The major difficulty, generally, for most is working with the financial accounting and auditing. Most staff who administer federal programs come from an instructional background, not a finance background. Most finance staff do not have a program background. A key to making consolidation work (assuming the curriculum and instructional pieces are in place) is to involve both program and finance staff in the process as well as the district’s audit firm and the SEA staff involved – both program and finance staff.
    If a district has a small district administrative staff, planning, time and implementation becomes an issue. If a district has a large administrative staff – coordination becomes an issue. Given the normal time commitments of most staff, it is difficult to take the time to learn all the requirements of all the federal programs and all the financial requirements for each program so that “consolidation” becomes more work.
    Depending on what reauthorization brings – Currently it is fairly easy to look at consolidation as Title II-A funds are the most readily available to consolidate. Title II-Tech funds are going away, Safe and Drug Free and Title V are not funded so the accounting problems are diminished. Pooling Title I and Title II would be easier to account for.
    The last issue I would discuss is the supplement, not supplant issue which influences much discussion about schoolwides in general. Schools are to receive their fair share of state and local funds – what does this actually mean for funding that schools receive. I would argue that local and state funds are those that a district and school receives as “general” funds and that state “special revenue” funds are supplemental but is that an acceptable definition when dealing with auditors?
    Consolidation of funds does work but it does require effort to put the program and fiscal issues together in a package that is acceptable to both program and finance.

  2. The following response to the October 4 to ED.gov Blog, “Granting Administrative Flexibility for Better Measures of Success,” aims to situate discussions of the third type of pilot project in the context of the current fiscal requirements of ESEA, Title I. Two of the three requirements are relevant.

    First, pilot ideas should account for the relationship between agencies’ hesitance to consolidate funds in schoolwide programs and the Supplement, Not Supplant requirement. In a paper commissioned jointly by the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute, attorneys Melissa Junge and Sheara Krvaric examine the sources of this hesitance. Some states have laws on the books that bar local agencies from exercising federally sanctioned fund consolidation, but a more global problem is that the fiscal enforcement community has not embraced the schoolwide test for supplanting that accords with spirit of fund consolidation. Changes in federal code and regulations, or at least concerted technical assistance to align state agencies’ understanding and posture around this test, may be necessary to stimulate appetite among school districts for fund consolidation in schoolwide programs.

    Second, expectations for pilot projects should account for the role of the Comparability requirement in frustrating efforts to assess the impact of Title I funds on student achievement. In particular, a loophole in the requirement makes it essentially impossible to attribute changes in measured outcomes such as student achievement to the Title I program. Unless Title I and non-Title I schools within a district enjoy reasonably comparable levels of state and local resources in terms of actual dollars, Title I dollars do not represent a purely supplemental input. Evidence from states including California and Florida, both ahead of the game in terms of publicly reporting actual school-level expenditures, as opposed to expenditures derived in part from district averages (e.g., teacher salary), suggest that Title I dollars are often only partly supplemental, and sometimes not even that. Thus, the comparability loophole compounds the already substantial challenge of assessing the causal impact of Title I programs.

    We applaud the idea of pilot programs aiming to boost efficiency of Title I programs, and we know there are many practitioners and officials eager to participate. Sadly, we lack the ability to elaborate a cogent idea for a pilot project, but we do feel our perspectives on Title I fiscal requirements may help others do so.

    Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President for Education Policy
    Raegen T. Miller, Associate Director for Education Policy
    Center for American Progress

  3. ■Your organization: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
    ■The Federal program(s) involved: School District Federal Programs
    ■The specific burden you are addressing with your proposed project: Monthly Time and Effort Documentation – specifically monthly PARs
    ■Your idea related to that burden: The following would provide for an alternative to contemporaneous time and attendance records for split funded individuals.
    With K-12 education related programs, many school district classroom staff are split funded between various federal and state programs and/or work on different cost objectives within various programs. Many of these individuals are required to submit monthly personnel activity reports (with the exception of those working in a schoolwide building 100% of their time on programs included in the schoolwide plan).
    These individuals typically have set schedules and their work activities are consistent from day-to-day or week-to-week.
    The proposal is to allow those schedules to support time charged to federal programs, in lieu of monthly PAR’s. If necessary, they could sign an annual certification that indicates they worked on multiple discrete cost objectives in accordance with their documented classroom schedule. The schedules would include their classroom schedules on a daily or weekly basis, depending on whether or not their schedule fluctuates from day to day within the week. In addition, the schedule would indicate the specific cost-objectives and programs they are working on during that period of time. The schedules will be required to be collected and retained in a central office (preferably the business office) for audit purposes, and all changes to an individual’s schedule would be retained in the same location. These schedules would be maintained for a time that is in accordance with the records retention requirements for time and effort documentation.
    To be eligible for this alternative, staff would need to:
    1) Have a schedule that does not fluctuate from week to week.
    2) Be required to submit monthly personnel activity reports under the current regulations.
    3) Not base their time on student populations within various programs (this could fluctuate on a weekly basis due to withdrawals and new enrollment).
    Participation requirements would include the employee and/or supervisor to:
    1) Document the employee’s weekly schedule to include individual cost objectives and/or programs they are supporting during that time.
    2) Notify the office collecting and retaining the schedule whenever a change is made to that schedule and require the employee’s supervisor to immediately submit the revised schedule to that office.
    ■What requirements or burdensome elements you would need waived by the Department, OMB, or your State in order to move forward with your idea or pilot project: OMB Circular A-87 would need to be revised to allow for certifications (annual or more frequently as necessary) rather the monthly time and effort for staff who work on multiple cost objectives.
    ■The process you would use for establishing goals and measuring outcomes if your pilot idea were implemented: There would be no direct measurable change in the goals/outcomes of any particular program, but would save a significant amount of time by many staff that could be spent on direct program activities.

    • The T&E alternative described by Jennifer essentially is a “planned / confirmation methodology” that already exists.
      I worked with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in developing the planned /confirmatiom time and effort methodology for one of their organizational components that is certfication driven, and adjustments to “planned effort” are made only when there are material changes to work schedules. The Implementation Guide to A-87 ( C-10 ) also addresses the use of certfication based effort reporting systems for static work environments. North Carolina may be happy to share,as a best practice, the written procedures and forms that were developed for implementation of this methodology.

  4. I have worked for years with federal programs and used the flexibility that was provided including consolidation of funds in schoolwides. For the moment I would only comment on #1 – time and effort. Part of the confusion between PARS and semi-annual certification (to me) is the definition of a “single cost objective” which while some say is the “activity” is never clearly defined for all users. Recently the USED did say that a Title I schoolwides were a single cost objective which has considerably decreased the work of doing PARS for those who work solely at a “schoolwide” school. The same seems to be true for district staff who administer several different federal programs – is “federal program administration” a “single cost objective” – if so this should help lessen the burden on district staff who may as an example) administer Title I, Title II, and Title III – be paid from the different pots of adm funds but only have to do a semi-annual certification – not the more labor intensive PAR. Looking at what a single cost objective actually means for educators would be very helpful.

    • The historical definition of “cost objective” is : a pool,center,or area established for the accumulation of costs. Such areas include organizational units, functions, objects or items of expense ,as well as ultimate cost objectives including specfic grants ,projects,contracts,and other activities.
      The terms “areas” and “activities” are critical, because it allows federal agencies to authorize , through legislation, the combination functions or activities that benefit 2 or more programs for the establishment of a single cost objective, if the costs would be allowable under any of the involved programs. This is called a homogeneous funding stream.
      The Department of Education has authorized,through legislation,certain programs as being eligible for “consolidated administration” as a single cost objective. However, the state must demonstrate that the majority of the administrative costs would be paid from state funds , to be eligible for consolidating administration costs for those select programs.
      Absent federal authority to consolidate individual CFDA program funding in a
      single cost objective, grantees must assign costs to affected grants and activities(including labor costs)on the basis of ” relative benefits received”..which is the bedrock of cost allocation. For labor costs , PARs are not the only way of assigning labor costs to grants that benefit from that labor. A cost allocation plan is an allowable alternative under OMB Circular A-87.
      Basically a cost allocation plan would use a distribution base as a “proxy” for time in assigning costs to the benefitting activities.
      For example transactions processed could be used to distribute accounting services costs, square footage used could be used to assign space and facility costs and FTEs could be used to assign human resources costs.
      For the cost center you have described as ” federal program adminstration” it seems that a possible disribution base for labor and other related costs could be “other direct program expenditures” . A possible cost allocation plan then would use this methodology to pool all federal adminisration labor and related costs and assign them , in lieu of PARs, to the benefitting grants.
      You would need to work with your cognizant agency on getting such a cost allocation plan approved and obtain technical assiatance from them or someone with experience with cost allocation plans in developing a cost allocation plan that is A-87 compliant.
      Good luck!

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