Federal Flexibility Initiative

The federal flexibility initiative is one of Commissioner Williams' priorities. The purpose of the initiative is to provide increased flexibility to subrecipients of federal education grants in ways that support one of Commissioner Williams’ other top priorities for Texas education, which is to close gaps in student achievement.

The initiative is made up of new policies related to how TEA administers, manages, and monitors federal grants. These policies are designed to give subrecipients greater flexibility in how they administer federal grant funds so that they can close student achievement gaps by operating effective programs that are based upon locally identified needs.

The policy changes focus on

  • Allowing more discretion at the local level
  • Providing clear guidance with examples and models
  • Removing barriers that are unnecessary and burdensome
  • Improving performance and program outcomes
  • Ensuring that grant funds are spent in accordance with program statute and regulations
  • Strengthening accountability for federal dollars; minimizing waste, fraud, and abuse; and providing more transparency

TEA’s Office for Grants and Federal Fiscal Compliance is primarily responsible for the initiative, but is working closely with other TEA departments, as well as local educational agencies, education service centers, and other community stakeholders to develop and implement policies that are as beneficial to federal grant subrecipients as possible.

Schoolwide Programs

A major part of this initiative is the promotion of Title I, Part A schoolwide programs. TEA encourages school districts and charter schools to take advantage of the flexibility offered by the schoolwide program model, which allows campuses to use Title I, Part A funds to improve the academic achievement of all of their students, not just certain eligible students. The program also eases several statutory and regulatory requirements, and allows a campus to consolidate its funds into a single budget “pool.” The schoolwide programs web pages can help campuses adopt the schoolwide program options that work best for them based upon their local needs.

The web pages are as follows:     

  • Schoolwide Programs. This is the home page for Title I, Part A schoolwide programs, and provides general information about choosing to implement a schoolwide program, eligibility, and basic requirements.
  • Fiscal Issues related to Operating a Schoolwide Program. This page describes various fiscal issues related to operating a schoolwide program, including adequate documentation, appropriate accounting structures, and specific fiscal requirements such as set-asides, supplement not supplant, and time and effort.

Other Policy Changes

We have implemented several policy changes that affect many processes over the life of a grant, from the grant application through grant monitoring. The following table describes these policy changes and the way they can help federal grant subrecipients.

Other Policy Changes

Area of Flexibility

Change

Detail

Advantage

Grant Application

Whenever possible, applicants are no longer required to submit

detailed budget information (unless required by statute)

Streamlines the application process for applicants and TEA so that TEA can award grant funds more quickly

individual job descriptions for employees to be hired (and will only provide them if requested)

information about how they will fulfill TEA requirements (fulfillment of statutory and regulatory requirements must still be described)

information about how they will fulfill certain fiscal and programmatic requirements (simple assurance will be required instead)

documentation that may be needed for future monitoring (may maintain documents locally and only provide them if requested)

TEA staff do not automatically

deny late amendments (change must be allowable under statute and not affect other fiscal procedures)

Gives grantees more time to focus on successful programs

deny budget amendments to be applied retroactively (change must correct budgeting errors and be submitted at least 15 days before the end of the grant period)

Gives grantees greater flexibility to ensure grant funds are spent based on local needs and in accordance with program statute and regulations for the intended beneficiaries of the program

Negotiations for Grant Applications

TEA staff no longer negotiate grants and amendments with a “one size fits all” approach

and instead negotiate grants and amendments more or less stringently based upon the grantee’s fiscal risk (determined by agency’s federal fiscal risk assessment process)

Streamlines negotiation process and allows TEA to award grant funds more quickly

Grant Accounting Process

TEA staff do not automatically

require grantees to submit detailed documentation to support certain anomalies in reimbursement requests (in most cases, a narrative justification will be accepted instead)

Allows grantees to operate in ways that benefit their programs based upon local needs

TEA staff no longer assume that large reimbursement requests made at the very end of the grant period are not allowable

and instead evaluate these reimbursement requests on a case-by-case basis and request justification that the purchases benefit the grant program

Allows grantees to operate in ways that benefit their programs based upon local needs

Federal Fiscal Monitoring  

TEA federal fiscal monitors conduct reviews of current-year grants that have not closed

and only look at prior-year grants as necessary (so that monitors can focus on compliance and ensuring that flexibility under the grant is used appropriately and is allowable under federal guidelines)

Gives grantees greater flexibility in ensuring that grant funds are spent both based on local needs and in accordance with program statute and regulations for the intended beneficiaries of the program

TEA provides for settlement conferences to resolve federal fiscal monitoring findings that could result in enforcement actions

using cooperative monitoring resolution to promote prompt corrective action to bring grantees into compliance

May allow for the cooperative resolution of monitoring findings without the need for a formal hearing

Miscellaneous

When possible, TEA staff will no longer deny requests for deadline extensions

for processes such as amendments and expenditure reporting (so long as other fiscal procedures are not affected)

Allows grantees to operate in ways that benefit their programs

TEA has implemented a process that allows grantees to take advantage of USDE’s approved substitute time and effort system

which allows certain employees to document time and effort using semiannual certifications rather than the more detailed and cumbersome personnel activity reports

Reduces the burden of time and effort documentation for certain employees of grantees

 

Uniform Grant Guidance

The US Council on Financial Assistance Reform (COFAR) is currently revising and consolidating several federal circulars that provide the basic rules and regulations for the administration of federal education grants. The circulars that will be superseded include Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circulars A-21, A-87, A-89, A-102, A-110, A-122, A-133, and those sections of A-50 that relate to single audits. The resulting Uniform Grant Guidance will go into effect December 26, 2014. While the final guidance has not yet been released, we know that at least some of the changes will provide federal grant subrecipients with increased flexibility. The following table summarizes these expected changes.

 

Uniform Grant Guidance

Area of Flexibility

Change

Detail

Advantage

New Uniform Grant Guidance
(to be published
December 26, 2014)

TEA will be able to

apply special conditions to bring grantees into compliance without designating them as “high-risk grantees”

Noncompliant grantees will be able to come into compliance with applicable statutes and regulations without having to be labeled as “high-risk grantees”

Grantees will be able to

trade in equipment when it needs to be replaced

The administrative burden on grantees may be reduced. Increased flexibility with grant funds may also help to ensure that the funds are spent both based on local needs and in accordance with program statute and regulations for the intended beneficiaries of the program.

dispense with having an auditor perform a single audit unless they spend $750,000 or more in federal grant funds in a fiscal year (threshold increased from $500,000)

avoid single audit questioned costs for a particular compliance requirement unless they are over $25,000 (threshold increased from $10,000)

 

Additional Guidance

Additional guidance regarding the federal flexibility initiative will be published as it becomes available.

Contact Information

Terry Reyes

Office for Grants and Federal Fiscal Compliance

terry.reyes@tea.texas.gov