Educators Oppose Trump Plan to Scrap Teacher-Support Program
Federal funding for educator quality helped a small district outside Boston cut down class sizes for beginning teachers. A cadre of Delaware districts used it to help teachers better personalize instruction for students. And the school district in El Paso, Texas, which is always on the lookout for teachers with expertise in working with English-language learners, has used some of the money for recruitment.
Those activities—and thousands of educators’ jobs—could be in jeopardy if Congress takes President Donald Trump up on his proposal to get rid of the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant program, better known to school districts as Title II, after the portion of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that governs it.
Eliminating the $2.3 billion program could hamper implementation of the law’s newest version, the Every Student Succeeds Act. It also could lead to teacher layoffs and make it tougher for educators to reach English-learners and other special populations and to make the most of technology in their classrooms, educators and advocates say.
The proposed cut is the largest—and arguably, the most consequential—the new president pitched for the U.S. Department of Education in his fiscal 2018 budget request, unveiled earlier this month. Overall, the administration wants to slash spending at the department by $9 billion, or 13 percent of its current, nearly $70 billion budget. The plan would cover the budget year that begins Oct. 1 and generally affects the 2018-19 school year.
The administration has also proposed cutting Title II in half for the current federal fiscal year, according to reports. If that cut goes through, districts would feel the squeeze when classes begin this fall.
The Trump administration doesn’t see Title II as effective. The funds are “poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact,” according to White House budget documents.
But educators feel differently. Title II, some agree, may need some tweaking. But it pays for programs that help teachers hone their practice.
“If you’re cutting Title II, you’re telling me one of two things,” said Kevin Cormier, who teaches 7th and 8th grade math at Nissitissit Middle School in central Massachusetts. “One, we’re perfect and we can’t develop anymore, or two, we suck and we can’t be helped.”
There may be room for improving Title II, Cormier said, but it also finances valuable work, including an initiative in his district aimed at getting teachers more comfortable with collecting data and analyzing it to improve their practice.
For the Frisco Independent school district near Dallas, which is constantly hiring to keep pace with its ballooning enrollment,
Title II funds are a lifeline for providing professional development to teachers, principals, and other administrative staff members.
The district, whose enrollment shot up from 7,234 students in 2000 to a projected 58,253 this year thanks to a business boom, is planning eight new schools over the next few years, said Manuel Gonzales, the federal programs coordinator.
“We are hiring new principals, new assistant principals, and a large number of new teachers every year because we are growing so rapidly and opening up new schools,” Gonzales said. “With that, there is a significant need to provide professional development for administrators and teachers on best practices in the field—everything from how do they collaborate, how to use data effectively, how to create common formative assessments, how to analyze student work and refine their instruction to improve student learning.”
And the federal cuts would come on top of reductions to state funding, he added.
“If we lose this from the federal government, that’s going to impact us doubly,” Gonzales said.
The Trump administration isn’t the first to question Title II, which represents the third-largest pot of money for K-12 in the department.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Education Week back in 2009 that the program—then funded at $3 billion—didn’t seem to be getting much mileage for the dollar. “Anyone who’d argue you’re getting great value for that $3 billion, I’d love to see that analysis,” he said.
The Obama administration sought tweaks to the program, including making a small portion of it competitive, rather than having the money flow through a formula, but didn’t seek to scrap Title II.
Research on the two main activities districts use their Title II dollars on—class-size reduction, which uses a quarter of the funds, and professional development, which accounts for another half—offer a mixed picture.
Numerous studies have questioned the impact of professional development on student achievement, said Chad Aldeman, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners who served in the Education Department during the Obama administration.
Professional development can help boost teacher confidence and improve their content knowledge, but there isn’t a ton of evidence that those benefits translate into student achievement gains, he said.
But Deborah S. Delisle, the executive director of ASCD, an educational leadership organization, said that gains in student outcomes are only one piece of the puzzle. Professional development helps teachers stay on top of their craft, she said.
“Attempting to define the success of professional development through the single measure of student achievement is flawed logic,” Delisle said in an email. “I wouldn’t trust a doctor who was not continually reading the latest in medical research, and likewise, we can’t pretend that educators don’t need continuous learning opportunities that will help them become more effective in their schools.”
Impact on ESSA Plans
Meanwhile, some studies of class-size reduction, another use of Title II funds, have shown some positive results, while others are inconclusive or don’t show much impact. Class-size reduction seems to have the biggest bang for the buck when it’s done on a large scale, slashing class size by seven or 10 students, and in the earliest grades.
Getting rid of Title II could make the teacher quality portion of states’ ESSA plans more difficult to implement. Those plans are due to be sent to the department beginning in early April.
Pedro Rivera, the state chief in Pennsylvania, said his state considered both teacher preparation and educator effectiveness in writing its plan, which proposes moving to a full-year internship for beginning teachers and bolstering the state’s superintendent and principal academies, he said.
“Now some of the funding we were going [to use] is ... in jeopardy of going away,” Rivera said. In fact, just days before releasing a budget that would get rid of Title II, the Trump administration put out a template for states to use in crafting their ESSA plans that asks, specifically, how states are planning to use Title II dollars to implement the law.
It’s unclear if Congress will take Trump up on the cut.
Aldeman, for one, noted that the money goes out to almost every congressional district. “There’s lots of people affected,” he said. “Almost every congressman has people who would be laid off because of this proposed budget cut.”
Vol. 36, Issue 27, Pages 1, 18-19Published in Print: April 5, 2017, as Title II Funds Facing the Ax Under Trump