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House Panel OKs Bill to Scrap Race to the Top, SIG, i3

By Alyson Klein — July 18, 2012 3 min read
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President Barack Obama’s signature education programs would be scrapped under a bill approved this morning by the House Appropriations Committee panel that oversees education spending.

The measure would cut about $1.1 billion from the U.S. Department of Education’s roughly $68 billion budget, according to an analysis by the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition. The bill covers fiscal year 2013, which starts on Oct. 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee has already passed a similar measure. More information about both bills here.

The measure approved by the House appropriations subcommittee would get rid of funding for most of the programs that make up the core of the Obama administration’s education redesign agenda, including Race to the Top, the Investing in Innovation grants, and the School Improvement Grant program. It would eliminate a number of smaller, more targeted programs, including Advanced Placement, School Leadership, and Arts in Education, according to CEF.

Many other programs—including Title I grants to districts and Career and Technical Education—would be level-funded. But the panel approved a big, $500 million boost for special education state grants, bringing the total to $12.1 billion.

Meanwhile, even though this is a spending bill, not a policy measure, it’s reignited an interesting debate on the highly qualified teacher provision in the No Child Left Behind Act. Under NCLB as originally drafted, highly qualified teachers must have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they are teaching, and state certification. But some argue the law isn’t clear on whether teachers in alternative certification programs meet that bar.

The Bush administration said, essentially, yes, that being in an alternative certification program makes you highly qualified, and it issued a regulation to that effect. But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, struck the regulation down in 2010. More background on the ruling here.

In reaction to the court ruling, Congress approved language in an omnibus spending bill that would allow teachers in alternative certification programs to count as “highly qualified” through the 2012-13 school year, as long as they are working toward certification and are part of a recognized program, essentially going back to the Bush administration’s regulation.

The House version of the spending bill keeps that exception in place for another two years (until the end of the 2014-15 school year.)

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the bill doesn’t include the extension. But the idea seems to have support in the chamber. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel that oversees K-12 spending, also heads the committee that oversees K-12 policy, the Senate Health, Education Labor, and Pensions Committee. That panel included a similar extension in a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill it approved last fall.

Dozens of organizations, including Teach for America, the New Teacher Project, Chiefs for Change, the Council of the Great City Schools, and the NewSchools Venture Fund are very happy to see the House bill extend the provision. Without the language, they argue, students would lose access to many excellent teachers.

Here’s a snippet from a letter they sent yesterday to lawmakers in charge of education spending:

If the current HQT law is not extended, hundreds of thousands of tremendously gifted teachers who have a significant positive impact on students will not be able to continue to teach. That is a cost this country simply cannot afford to bear.

But dozens of other organizations, including the Council for Exceptional Children, the National Education Association, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and the NAACP, would rather not see the provision extended. They’re worried that could mean that more low-income students and students in special populations will be taught by folks who aren’t certified. They also sent a letter up to the Hill, dated July 15.

Here’s a bit of that letter:

Absent expiration of the problematic provision ... low-income students, students with disabilities and English-learners will continue to be disproportionately taught by teachers-in-training and that fact will be masked from parents and local communities.

The upshot? This is an interesting debate, but soon, it might not matter quite as much in many states, at least as long as the department’s NCLB waiver plan is in place. The conditional waivers allow states to move away from many of the highly qualified teacher requirements, as long as they adopt a system of teacher evaluations that takes student achievement into account. So far, more than half of the states have been approved for waivers.

Of course, some big ones, including California, Pennsylvania, and Texas, are still not on board the waiver train. So we’ll see where Congress eventually goes with this.