Budget & Finance

School Leaders Press to Preserve Funding For Leadership Programs

By Denisa R. Superville — February 23, 2018 5 min read
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For the second year in a row, several federal programs that pay for school-leader recruitment, training, and professional development are on the chopping block.

Among the items slated for elimination in the Trump Administration budget for 2019 fiscal year, which was released last week:

  • All $2 billion of the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant program, or Title II, Part A. This grant flows to every state and is primarily used for teachers’ professional development and class size reduction, but can also be used for principals and school leaders;
  • $65 million for the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program;
  • And $14.5 million for the School Leader Recruitment and Support grant.

The Teacher and School Leader Incentive Grant program, which supports performance pay and promotions for teachers and principals, is also targeted for elimination.

School-leader advocacy groups rallied last year to save Title II, which the Trump administration wanted to cut then. Congress kept the funding.

The Trump administration said it slated the programs for elimination because they had “achieved their original purpose, duplicate other programs, are narrowly focused, or are unable to demonstrate effectiveness.”

But the school leadership groups strongly disagree.

The proposed cuts show the administration’s “disregard” for what it takes to develop good school leaders and what the research says about the important role that school leaders play in student success, said Bob Farrace, a spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

In a joint statement, the NASSP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the American Federation of School Administrators, New Leaders, ASCD, and Learning Forward said the administration’s proposed budget puts the nation’s students and future at risk.

“The Every Student Succeeds Act thoroughly revamped Title II’s uses of funds and definition of professional development, and states developed plans that relied heavily on teacher and principal development within the new parameters,” the statement said. “Those state plans recognize what the Trump administration fails to accept or fund: That high-quality education for all students can be achieved only with high-quality development for teachers and principals.

“America’s public schools belong and are accountable to all of us. Failing to adequately fund our public schools shows how fast and how far the Trump administration is drifting from promoting educational equity and excellence for all students.”

Farrace said that NASSP was also concerned about a number of other initiatives that were on the chopping block, including funding for after school programs and full-service community schools.

But Farrace said there were some positive signs in the budget from school leaders’ perspective, including a slight increase in funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, funding to help schools address the opioid crisis, and level-funding—rather than a decrease—for Title I, money that helps support the education of children in poverty.

The conservative Heritage Foundation wrote in support of the administration’s education budget proposal, saying, in part, that Title II was a state and local function and had shown little return on the investment.

The Trump administration is not the first to question the effectiveness of Title II. Arne Duncan, who served as education secretary under President Barack Obama, also questioned whether the funding was delivering the best bang for the buck.

Separately, New Leaders, the leadership-development group that trains principals to work in high-poverty schools, said that the “budget proposal fails to recognize the research that shows just what an important role school leaders play in creating schools where teachers and students thrive.”

“At a time when states have proposed promising strategies to use leadership—in part, buoyed by federal investments—to meet their goals for school and student success under ESSA, the Administration’s budget is particularly disappointing,” New Leaders said. “This approach threatens to stifle innovation and stymie state and local efforts to invest in evidence-based leadership at a time when we know how critical it will be for every school, especially those serving high-need students and communities, to be led by a well-prepared, well-supported principal.”

Continuing Advocacy

Sarah Rosenberg, New Leaders’ policy director, said the leadership groups will continue to rally congressional representatives and provide them with evidence that the programs have positively impacted schools.

Rosenberg cited as an example a 2014 analysis of the New Leaders Aspiring Principals Program, showing that principals who went through the organization’s training program saw higher achievement scores in their schools than in schools that were helmed by principals not trained by the New Leaders program.

“Members [of Congress] want to see the impact of these programs in their districts and their states,” she said. “And one thing that we have on our side is that many of the programs that the administration’s budget is proposing cutting have evidence [of success] in districts and states.”

One State’s Story

Officials at Missouri’s state department of elementary and secondary education are among those that are paying close attention to how the issue will be resolved.

Using new flexibility in ESSA, the department had been counting on using 3 percent of the $35 million it gets in federal Title II funds to expand a program that differentiates supports for principals based on the stages they are in their careers. It surveyed district and school leaders extensively to develop the program. But now, with Title II in jeopardy, state education officials may have to seek additional funds from the legislature or businesses, said Paul Katnik, an assistant education commissioner in the office of educator quality.

“We did not have one superintendent say, ‘don’t do this,’ ” he said.

The system is already up and running, with about 700 principals signed up.

The feedback from the field is that “the principals are really benefitting from this,” Katnik said.

“So when we hear that there is a possibility that Title II-A will be reduced or eliminated—we would just hate to see that,” he said. “We think we have found a way to help principals, and that’s what we want to do.”

The impact of the program goes beyond individual principals, he said. Principals set the tone, climate, student-learning conditions, and culture in their schools. They are also among the reasons why teachers may stay or leave their jobs.

“The better we make principals, the more we touch on all of those different areas,” Katnik said. “If we manage to support [all the state’s] principals, the impact is on 900,000 students across the state. We are well on our way.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.