Background: Section 9601 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) authorizes a 0.5% evaluation set-aside for many K–12 programs.
Specifically, Section 9601 of ESEA gives the Department the authority, in many of its K–12 programs, to set aside up to 0.5% of the program's funds to conduct evaluations of that program. This provision applies to the K–12 programs authorized by ESEA other than those in Titles I and III, and other than those which have their own separate evaluation authority. As an example, the Department uses this authority in the $2.9 billion Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program, where it yields approximately $14 million annually for evaluation activities in that program.
Problem to be addressed: The 0.5% evaluation set-aside, when applied to a small Department program, does not generate sufficient funds for a meaningful evaluation of that program.
In many small K–12 programs, the Department does not currently use its Section 9601 set-aside authority, because the set aside does not generate sufficient funds for a meaningful evaluation of the program. For example, in a $5 million program, the set-aside would yield just $25,000 annually, and it is hard to envision conducting a worthwhile evaluation with that amount.
Section 9601, as currently drafted, does not appear to give the Department the flexibility to pool the set-aside amounts from several small programs in order to generate sufficient funds to conduct a high-quality evaluation in a one or a few of these programs.
As a result, the Department is not using its evaluation set-aside authority in programs whose funding totals approximately $2.38 billion, where it could potentially yield a total of $11.9 million in funds for evaluation. Many programs activities—including some highly innovative smaller programs—therefore go unevaluated, denying the policy community of a valuable opportunity to learn which activities are truly effective in improving K–12 education.
Recommendation: That Congress make a modest legislative revision to Section 9601, to explicitly allow the Department to pool set-aside amounts from several smaller programs to fund meaningful evaluations in one or a few such programs.
In accompanying report language, Congress might request that the Department use these pooled funds in a balanced way to ensure that, over time, the evaluations generate knowledge about "what works" across a wide range of these smaller programs, rather than just a few. This would be in keeping with the concept that programs from which evaluation funds are set aside should generally benefit from their use.
Precedent for this policy: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has had similar evaluation set-aside authority since 1970, which allows it to pool funds in this way.
Specifically, Section 241 of the Public Heath Service Act authorizes the Secretary of HHS to set aside 1% of funding from many of its public health service programs to fund program evaluation activities. HHS and its predecessor organization (HEW) have used this authority to fund evaluation activities since 1970, and generally set aside the full authorized amount each year. Because of a difference in the wording of Section 241 compared to Section 9601, HHS is allowed to pool its set-aside funds, and does so. (The relevant wording of these two statutory provisions is attached.)
Attachment: The Relevant Statutory Provisions
The Education Department's evaluation set-aside authority (in Section 9601 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act):
. . . the Secretary [of Education] may reserve not more than 0.5 percent of the amount appropriated to carry out each categorical program and demonstration project authorized under this Act . . . to conduct . . . (A) comprehensive evaluations of the program or project; and (B) studies of the effectiveness of the program or project and its administrative impact on schools and local educational agencies . . . .
[Note that, in the above text, the words "program" and "project" are singular rather than plural.]
HHS's evaluation set-aside authority (in Section 241 of the Public Health Service Act):
"Such portion as the Secretary [of HHS] shall determine, but not less than 0.2 percent nor more than 1 percent, of any amounts appropriated for programs authorized under this chapter shall be made available for the evaluation . . . of the implementation and effectiveness of such programs."
[Note the use of the plural "programs."]