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What Principals Want From the Incoming Biden Administration and Congress

By Denisa R. Superville — January 05, 2021 6 min read
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen Theater on Dec. 29, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.

Fund schools to pre-recession levels to cope with the local economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Increase funding for literacy programs. Support policies and programs that will diversify the principalship and the larger educator workforce.

Fund school mental health programs and technology infrastructure to close the digital divide that was laid bare during the coronavirus shutdowns.

And create a standing principals’ cabinet or similar federal-level forum to allow principals and school leaders to weigh in on education policies and to tap their expertise on school leadership needs and priorities.

These are some of the priorities the national principals’ groups have for the Biden administration, which takes office on Jan. 20, and the new Congress.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals are hoping for a new era under Biden’s nominee for education secretary, current Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel A. Cardona, who was the state’s youngest principal when he became a school leader in 2003.

“The pandemic continues to expose our systemic gaps and inequities, and student and educator needs continue to grow exponentially while our budgets continue to shrink,” said Ronn Nozoe, NASSP’s new chief executive officer. Biden and the new Congress “must create policies that establish the conditions and supports necessary for our students’ post-pandemic learning and success.”

Equity as a Guide

Both the NASSP and NAESP called for policies and funding that will elevate the role of principals in shaping policy and as emissaries shining a light on the leadership profession. They also want a focus on principals’ mental health and emotional well-being. While some of the priorities reflect an education landscape that has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic, others seek to resurrect legislation that died in Congress during previous administrations, including proposals to provide grants to districts that voluntarily pursue school integration.

Equity was also a common feature. Among them: the NASSP’s requests to restore Title IX guidance to include transgender students and school discipline to Obama-era guidelines; bridge “the homework gap” by providing at least $12 billion through the E-Rate program to broaden at-home internet access for students; and provide full funding for federal programs such as Title I and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act — a long-standing dream of school and district leaders.

The NAESP would like the Biden administration and Congress to improve work conditions for teachers and principals by increasing allocations for school leaders through Title II Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Increasing that pot of money would expand professional development opportunities for principals and help strengthen the principal pipeline. Those funds could also go toward initiatives to support principals’ and teachers’ mental health and well-being, according to the association. (Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states can set aside up to 3 percent of the funds they receive through Title II Part A for principal development and pipeline programs.)

The group would also like the administration to set up a principals’ cabinet so that principals can participate in policy discussions. The U.S. Department of Education generally has a principal’s ambassador program for sitting school principals.

The NAESP also is seeking to boost high-quality leadership preparation programs and expand clinical experiences —such as residencies steeped in real world practice — for would-be school leaders. The association argues that clinical experience can help with retention and diversity.

The group would also like to see more commitment to training school principals to lead early education, especially from grades K-3—an area that’s often overlooked in prep programs. It specifically asks for funding to be increased for academies that prepare school leaders to work with those young populations.

And overall, it wants the new administration to rethink how the country approaches early education programs, which are sometimes disconnected from the public K-12 system. The association called the current system a “fragmented and undervalued profession.” It wants to boost salaries for early- childhood educators, who are often women of color and who receive low wages.

“The field is in critical need of robust investments to improve preparation, to facilitate high-quality licensure pathways, and to increase pay,” according to the NAESP.

The NAESP wants a new funding stream to support mental health services that could go, in part, toward hiring more counselors and school psychologists and creating more programs to help students social-emotional well-being. Student mental health and emotional well-being have been a key focus for principals and those concerns have been magnified amid the coronavirus pandemic and racial and social justice protests.

Funds For Buildings and Technology

While the NASSP had detailed, specific requests, those proposals fall into four broad categories:

  • Boosting school funding to pre-Recession levels to help schools’ weather the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic;
  • Using equity as a lever to inform both funding and policy decisions;
  • Developing a stronger principal pipeline; and
  • Funding programs that support students’ and educators’ social-emotional and mental well-being and create safe and healthy learning environments.

Specifically, the NASSP is asking that a COVID-19 relief package in the Biden administration include least $175 billion for schools, annual appropriations to fund ESSA, and about $100 billion in grants and bonds to help schools address their aging buildings and improve their technology infrastructure.

The NASSP is hoping that school leaders and districts get a reprieve from some federal accountability requirements, including annual assessments and evaluations, as the public school system continues to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, which has upended normal schooling.

It would like to see federal support and funds for homegrown principal and teacher programs.
Equity is also a big theme for the NASSP, both for students and increasing diversity among the educator workforce.

The group also would like the Biden administration to fund Title II, Part A of the Higher Education Act to, at minimum, its authorized levels, which it said could increase the number of educators of color. And it would like the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection to include annual data on the race, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, and sexual orientation of teachers and school leaders who work in public schools and graduate from preparation programs.

The NASSP wants more money to prepare principals to work in diverse school settings, including students with disabilities, English-language learners, and children from low-income families.

It wants to see the administration back policies to protect LGBTQ individuals and approve legislation that bars discrimination in public schools based on “actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

And it is seeking a path to citizenship for those currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which the Obama administration started to shield from deportation some students brought to the United States as children by their parents, but which has been under constant threat of elimination during the Trump administration.

It’s also asking the new administration to offer incentives for schools and districts to abolish corporal punishment.

With school safety very much on the organization’s mind, the NASSP also is asking the administration to mandate specialized training for law enforcement officers in schools, especially those who work with children and students with special needs.

And with concerns about the impact of vaping on adolescents, the association wants the administration champion efforts to reduce youth smoking and vaping, along with other affects to address youth suicide and bullying.

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