Teacher Ed Grants Face Uncertainty

By Alyson Klein — October 03, 2007 5 min read

This article was originally published in Education Week.

Teacher education programs have for years drawn criticism from policymakers and even some prominent voices in the field. Now, Congress is poised to slash spending on the main federal program aiding colleges of teacher education, despite efforts by some lawmakers to refocus the program to bolster partnerships between such colleges and school districts.

Under a fiscal 2008 spending bill the House of Representatives approved in July, support for the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants program would fall by one-third, from $60 million in just-ended fiscal 2007 to $40 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee, which in June passed its spending bill that includes the U.S. Department of Education, would cut funding for the program to just $28.5 million—a drop of more than 50 percent.

Still, the spending plans in both houses would stop short of eliminating the program, even though President Bush proposed doing just that in his budget request for fiscal 2008, which began Oct. 1.

Any such cuts would be misguided, Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University and a champion of teacher professionalism, said last week. She would like, instead, to see federal spending on teacher education boosted substantially.

“Even if you don’t like what [education schools] are doing, you can’t get around them,” she said, noting that the institutions produce the vast majority of U.S. teachers. “If you think they’re broken, then you need to fix them. … [Policymakers] are not going to change that system by ignoring” the colleges.

New Focus Sought

Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants are authorized under the Higher Education Act, which has been awaiting renewal since 2003. The program includes three funding streams: one that helps districts and colleges collaborate on teacher training, another to allocate one-time grants to help states improve teacher education, and a third for teacher recruitment.

An HEA-reauthorization bill approved by the Senate in July would eliminate the state and recruitment grants to focus resources on a single partnership program, aimed primarily at helping financially needy districts and teacher colleges create “residency” and induction programs and other enhanced field experiences for new educators.

The bill’s focus on collaboration with districts holds promise for improving high-poverty schools, but the proposed spending cuts may mean there’s not enough money to support such efforts, said Jane E. West, the vice president for government relations for the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

“It’s completely insufficient,” Ms. West said of the House and Senate funding proposals. She said the types of programs outlined in the Senate’s higher education reauthorization bill would be especially costly to support.

One requirement of the residency program is that funds must be paid to participants to support their living expenses, Ms. West said.

“That’s great, and that’s important, and that needs to happen. But, this is the first time under Title II that funds would be directed to individual student support, and that’s expensive,” Ms. West said, referring to the part of HEA dealing with education schools.

Under the Senate’s HEA measure, students earning master’s degrees in education would work alongside experienced mentor teachers in high-need schools, while taking education courses. In exchange for agreeing to teach in a high-poverty district for at least three years, students would receive stipends to help cover their living expenses while in school.

To qualify for the grants, districts would have to have a significant percentage of students living in poverty and considerable teacher turnover, among other characteristics.

The grants could also be used to bolster preparation, including field experiences, for students earning an undergraduate degree in education, and support induction programs, aimed at helping new teachers during their first two years or so on the job.

Federal lawmakers are seeking to overhaul the program in part because they were concerned its current structure wasn’t focused and didn’t have sufficient accountability measures, said an aide to Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the panel’s chairman, is concerned about the diminished funding and will work with lawmakers who oversee spending to increase its appropriation, the aide added.

Veto Threat

The proposed cuts to the teacher-quality grants would ensure that current grantees continued to receive their funding, Ms. West said. Under the Senate measure, no new programs would receive funding, including the university-district collaborations. The House bill would make room for new grants to colleges of education that were willing to partner directly with districts, Ms. West said.

Ms. West hopes that once lawmakers on the appropriations committees see how the bill to renew the Higher Education Act would revamp the teacher-training program, they’ll be more willing to provide the necessary funding.

The House Education and Labor Committee has yet to take up its bill to reauthorize the HEA. It’s unclear whether House lawmakers will adopt language similar to that in the Senate’s bill that would refocus the quality-enhancement program.

A Senate Appropriations Committee aide cited fiscal constraints as a major reason for the panel’s proposed cut, noting that President Bush has threatened to veto a number of appropriations bills for the new fiscal year—which began without completion of any spending bills for federal agencies—because they contain more money than he requested.

Lawmakers and the administration last week were working on a measure to continue funding most programs at or close to fiscal 2007 levels for health, education, and other programs until an agreement on spending levels is reached.

The Senate aide acknowledged that the administration’s proposal to zero out the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants influenced the spending panel’s decision to target the program for cuts. In the president’s budget proposal, unveiled in January, administration officials wrote that the program duplicates other federal efforts.

Rebecca Neale, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said in an e-mail: “We must ensure that our programs are achieving the best results, which is why we propose to direct our limited resources to those that offer the greatest potential in developing quality teachers.”