Trump’s Budget Eliminates Funding for Teacher Training, Class-Size Reductions

By Madeline Will — May 23, 2017 5 min read
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Much to the dismay of some teachers and school leaders groups, President Donald Trump’s budget proposal eliminates the $2.3 billion Title II grant program for teacher development.

The official proposed budget, released on Tuesday, included $9.2 billion in cuts to the Education Department. (You can read my colleague Andrew Ujifusa’s breakdown of all the proposed changes to education funding over at Politics K-12.) But federal funds for teacher preparation fared particularly poorly.

“Title II is really the lifeblood in terms of how districts and charter schools fund educator development,” said Liam Goldrick, the policy director for the New Teacher Center, which works with school districts across the country to increase the effectiveness of teachers.

But Trump’s budget says the Title II grant money is “spread too thinly to have a meaningful impact on student outcomes. In addition, there is limited evidence that teacher professional development ... has led to increases in student achievement.”

A quarter of the grants are used for class-size reduction, and while the budget acknowledges that smaller classes have been tied to increased student achievement, it says that districts used the money to pay the salaries of about 8,000 teachers in 2015-16—losing that money, the budget says, won’t have a large impact on class sizes or teacher staffing levels.

But the proposed elimination has sparked concern from some outside stakeholders.

“We’re just incredibly disappointed,” said Stephanie Hirsh, the executive director of Learning Forward, a membership organization that works to improve professional learning in schools. “We’re concerned with how we’re supposed to achieve outcomes of equity and excellence without investing in educators who are responsible for that vision.”

ESSA defines high-quality professional development as sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused—new standards have forced states, districts, and schools to revamp PD. PD programs have long been criticized for being expensive and ineffective, and ESSA calls for these programs to be evidence-based.

“Title II ... was a huge and important component of that policy blueprint,” Goldrick said. "[Lawmakers] didn’t forsee a future for states and districts where Title II, in effect, wouldn’t exist.”

One could make the argument, he said, that Trump is “relitigating a policy conversation that had been settled a year and a half ago.”

Hirsh said it’s shortsighted to cut federal money for professional learning while stakeholders are working to improve it. “Congress strengthened Title II, and we deserve the opportunity to rise to the occasion,” she said.

The Education Department’s budget calls the Title II grant program “largely duplicative,” saying that Title I funds and money from competitive grant programs can be used for teacher or staff professional development.

But Goldrick said it’s a zero-sum game—school districts will still lose a chunk of funding if the budget is approved.

“I think it’s unrealistic to expect that districts are going to be able to tap deep down into their Title I allocations and find sufficient resources to engage in the type of educator support and development strategies to make up for a wholesale cut in $2.3 billion in Title II,” he said. “It doesn’t add up.”

And the cuts, he said, will have a particularly strong impact on the neediest schools and districts in the country.

“Were this to happen, given the size of the proposed cuts, I think you could see the exacerbation of achievement gaps,” he said.

Still, Title II has had its detractors for years—the Obama administration also questioned the effectiveness of the program and decreased the program’s budget from nearly $3 billion to about $2.3 billion.

“I’m not going to lose sleep over the loss of Title II,” said Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “People have been complaining about the little bang for the buck in Title II for years. ... Is there likely a lot of really good things happening with the $2.3 billion that’s going to get cut? There’s no way there isn’t.”

But her primary concern, she said, is the cuts to special education and Medicaid.

“This budget would do a lot to harm the lives of kids, which in turn makes teachers’ jobs much harder,” she said. “That’s the big takeaway—not whether we have less PD or one or two fewer kids in a class. That’s minor in comparison to what these other cuts will take away.”

Next Steps

Learning Forward, alongside a coalition of principals’ and school leaders’ groups that includes the prominent curriculum group ACSD, is calling for Congress to not only reject Trump’s proposal, but to restore the $294 million cut made in an earlier budget deal covering the rest of fiscal 2017. The coalition asks for restored funding of $2.295 billion in fiscal 2018.

ln April, Learning Forward asked educators to share what would happen if they lost their Title II dollars. So far, Hirsh said, the group has collected individual responses from almost every state, about 350 in all.

For example, a school district in Florida uses its Title II dollars to pay for instructional coaches. Through that program, the district has gotten two-thirds of its schools off the low-performing list, Hirsh said. Another school district said it uses the federal money to pay for professional learning time and has seen improvements in math and reading scores since its teachers collaborated. A lot of districts have said that they use their Title II funds for mentoring new teachers, Hirsh said.

Learning Forward has given those reports to the office of Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, Hirsh said. The group is also part of a Title II coalition, which will host a “Title II Day” on June 14. Then, the coalition hopes to tell every member of Congress a story about how a school in his or her district is using Title II money, and the impact that it has had.

As my colleague Alyson Klein reported back in March, it is unlikely that Congress will scrap the entire program. But make sure to read her overview of what it would mean for schools.

This post has been updated to reflect the correct date of “Title II Day.”

More on Trump’s Proposed Budget:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.