Can ESEA (ESSA) Funds be used to Pay EL Teacher’s Salaries?


When I was employed at a state department of education, I monitored school districts for compliance with ESEA requirements for both Title I and Title III. I also contracted with the U.S. Department of Education (USED) and helped USED monitor Title III in five states. One of the most common English Learner (EL) program monitoring issues I found was an improper use of Title I or Title III funds to pay for the salaries of teachers working in a district’s core “language instruction educational program” (LIEP), also know as an EL program.

LIEPs or EL programs are programs that may meet the Civil Rights or Lau requirements regarding the rights that ELs have to certain educational programs. According to Civil Rights and related case law, students that are ELs must be provided education services that help them attain English proficiency and access/acquire content knowledge.

Using Title I, Title III, or most other federal funds to pay teacher salaries for teachers of ELs is subject to federal supplement not supplant regulations. These regulations specify that federal funds can only be used to provide educational services that are supplemental or “in addition to” what must be provided if no federal funds were available. To understand what you can pay for with federal education funds, you must first understand what is required to be funded with non-federal funds so that ELs are provided their Civil Rights required EL program.

This topic, and others related to Title I and Title III requirements under ESEA (ESSA) were addressed in our July 24th webinar "ESSA Reauthorization and Parent Notifications", which you can watch here.

Identify and Describe Core EL Programs

Civil Rights laws require that all children be provided a free appropriate public education that includes being taught some core subjects. In addition to the typical core subjects or academic content requirements for all students, school districts are required to provide English learners an additional core component that includes programs to help ELs attain English proficiency and acquire content knowledge. It is important to note that attainment of English proficiency is not the same as the content area of English/Language Arts. Learning English grammar, reading and writing as academic content is significantly different than learning to speak English or understand spoken English as a second language, as well as being able to read or write English with understanding (fluency). 

One online document from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) indicates that five “procedures should be used by school districts to ensure that their programs are serving” EL students effectively. Those five points are:

  1. Identify students who need assistance;
  2. Develop a program which, in the view of experts in the field, has a reasonable chance for success;
  3. Ensure that necessary staff, curricular materials, and facilities are in place and used properly;
  4. Develop appropriate evaluation standards, including program exit criteria, for measuring the progress of students; and
  5. Assess the success of the program and modify it where needed.

To summarize these points, district must have procedures to identify ELs, provide effective EL programs, fund and appropriately implement these EL programs, use English proficiency standards that include exit criteria, and evaluate EL programs and make changes where deficiencies are found.

It is highly recommended that districts document their procedures to meet these requirements using an official plan for serving ELs. Once a district has documented what it is doing to meet its Civil Rights Lau requirements (core EL program) in an EL program plan, then it can easily identify EL services that would be “in addition to” its core EL program. If a district needs assistance developing an EL program plan, OCR has another online resource called “Programs for English Language Learners”. This resource provides helpful information and questions for the development or evaluation of EL program plans.

Only Federally Fund EL Teachers for Non-Core Activities

Once Civil Rights requirements are met, it is allowable to use Title I and/or Title III funds to fund teachers that provide supplemental EL programs (again, those “in addition to” services). So, any EL program that will help ELs attain English proficiency and/or acquire content knowledge that is not part of a district’s core EL program would be allowable, including funding teachers to provide those services. Be sure to check state and local laws, as sometimes there are requirements in those laws that affect what might be considered supplemental. If you are unsure, check with a district or state EL administrator or someone at USED.

No Class Size Reduction

It is important to note that neither Title I nor Title III funds may be used for EL class size reduction. This is because class size reduction, in this case, equates to providing additional EL teachers for a district’s core EL program.

It might seem logical that if a district has funding for 3 EL teachers to provide services in its core EL program, that using federal funding for a fourth EL teacher to provide these services would be “in addition to” what you would provide if no federal funding were available. However, if this were done, then the district would be using federal funds to provide core EL services.

From the federal viewpoint, if a district needs to reduce class size to ensure that its EL program is effective, then it should use non-federal funds to do that. As part of the Title III monitoring of states that I did with USED, I saw monitoring findings issued for this in almost all of the five states I helped monitor.

Job Descriptions are Key

When using federal funds (Title I or Title III) to fund EL teachers, be sure that the job descriptions for the federally funded EL teachers are not identical to the ‘core’ EL teachers and that they don’t include any components of the core EL program provided by the district. The job description for a supplemental EL teacher must clearly describe the duties of that teacher in order to show that those duties are “in addition to” what the district describes as its core EL program. Title I or Title III funded EL teacher job descriptions that included parts of or all of a district’s core EL program were the most common source of documentation I used when establishing a compliance finding in this area.

If you are uncertain about funding for supplemental EL teachers, contact your EL administrators at your district, your state, or the U.S. Department of Education.

If you have any questions, or for more information about TransACT’s Parent Notices and other products, please contact us at 425.977.2100, Option 3 or email at


Dr. David Holbrook

About The Author

Dr. David Holbrook is a nationally recognized leader in federal programs administration and monitoring with expertise in Title I, Title III, Native American Education, and Federal Programs. Dr. Holbrook has also worked as a consultant with Title III of the US Department of Education and now serves as Executive Director, Federal Compliance and State Relationships with TransAct.