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What Would Trump’s Proposed Cut to Teacher Funding Mean for Schools?

By Alyson Klein — March 28, 2017 9 min read
President Donald Trump listens as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during a meeting with parents and teachers at the White House Feb. 14. The event, which included a mix of public, private, and home-school parents and educators, was the first joint appearance for Trump and DeVos since she was sworn in after a bruising confirmation process.
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President Donald Trump has proposed getting rid of the Title II program, which has been around for more than a decade and aims to help districts and states pay for teacher and principal development, reduce class size, craft new evaluation systems, and more.

The program, which is officially called the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant program, or Title II, Part A, is the third-largest in the U.S. Department of Education’s budget that goes to K-12 education. Eliminating it would be a really big deal, state, district, and school officials say. Zeroing out Title II could hamper implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, lead to teacher layoffs, and make it tougher for educators to reach special populations of students, or use technology in their classrooms.

The Trump administration, though, doesn’t see the program as effective. And its predecessor also questioned Title II. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed concerns early on his tenure that the program wasn’t getting much bang for its buck. But overall, he was in favor of tweaking Title II, not ditching it.

Got questions about what this program does and whether it’s likely to survive? We have answers:

How are Title II funds used?

More than half of school districts use Title II funds to pay for professional development, and another quarter use it for class-size reduction, according this August 2016 report on the program by the U.S. Department of Education. The money for class-size reduction has helped pay for the salaries of nearly 9,000 teachers nationwide, according to the report.

While states and districts were always able to use Title II funds for principals and school leaders, the vast majority of those funds are used for teachers. Under ESSA, states can set aside Title II, Part A funds for things like mentoring and induction programs for principals and teacher-leaders and revising certification and preparation programs. School leader and principal groups are pretty excited about this new possibility.

Here’s a handy visual, from the department’s report, using survey data from the 2015-16 school year:

Who gets Title II funding?

The money flows through a formula that considers a state’s poverty levels, as well as its overall population. And in passing the Every Student Succeeds Act, lawmakers rejiggered the formula to put an even heavier emphasis on poverty, as opposed to population. (More on that below.) During the 2015-16 school year, nearly half the money went to the nation’s highest-poverty districts, according to the department report.

Here’s another helpful visual on this topic from the department’s report:

What is the Trump administration’s rationale for scrapping the program?

The Trump administration’s brief budget justifies eliminating the program by saying the funds are, “poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos did not address the specific cut to Title II in her statement on the budget. But she said the “budget is the first step in investing in education programs that work, and maintaining our Department’s focus on supporting states and school districts in providing an equal opportunity for a quality education to all students.” And an Education Department official said the administration is investing in the highest-value programs that have a record of success. The Trump administration doesn’t appear to put Title II in that camp.

What do educators have to say about the prospect of losing Title II?

Educators, from teachers to all the way up to state chiefs, have serious concerns about losing this money, even as some acknowledge it could be better targeted.

Delaware, for instance, uses some of the money to hire teachers, but also allocates a chunk to a new, multidistrict effort aimed at helping teachers better personalize learning for their students, said Susan Bunting, the state chief.

If the Title II funding goes away, the reduction will come on top of budget challenges at the state level, she said. “Title II impacts classrooms,” Bunting said. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid is the impact on children’s learning.”

Teachers are taking notice of the proposed cut, too.

Kevin Cormier, who teaches 7th and 8th grade math at Nissitissit Middle School in central Massachusetts, is helping to spearhead a new district-wide initiative aimed at getting teachers more comfortable with collecting data and analyzing it to improve their practice. The effort, which he’s hoping to ramp up over the course of three to five years, is funded with Title II dollars, and could stall out if the money goes away, he said.

And overall, Cormier doesn’t like the message behind the proposed elimination.

“If you’re cutting Title II you’re telling me one of two things,” Cormier said. “One, we’re perfect and we can’t develop anymore, or, two, we suck and we can’t be helped.”

The El Paso Independent School District in Texas uses a portion of its $4 million for recruitment bonuses. It also directs Title II funds to reimburse teachers who are pursuing master’s degrees, including those who are studying for a master’s in education administration—the graduate degree that’s often a precursor to becoming a principal.

Those in a master’s program in educational administration can receive up to $900 a semester. About 75 teachers are signed up, said Nancy Tovar, a former elementary school principal who is now the executive director of talent acquisition and personnel administration in the 60,000-student district.

With about 50 percent of the state’s principals expected to retire in the next five years and about two-thirds of the district’s elementary school principals having less than three years of experience on the job, building a leadership pipeline and supporting new principals are extremely important, she said.

“We want to emphasize the importance of the principalship,” Tovar said. “This is a way that we can encourage people, especially those with a talent for leadership, to pursue a master’s degree in educational administration.”

It’s worth pointing out that private schools also benefit from Title II funds. More on that here.

What does the research say about Title II?

There has been plenty of research suggesting that Title II could use a makeover. For instance, this 2015 report by the American Institutes for Research argues that the professional development activities funded using Title II dollars haven’t been as effective as they could be. The report recommends that Title II be refocused on “continuous improvement” but does not call for scrapping the program entirely.

Similarly, research on the two main activities districts use their Title II dollars for—class-size reduction and professional development—offer a mixed picture.

Professional development:

Numerous research studies have questioned the impact of professional development on student achievement. For a good overview, check out this piece by my colleague, Steve Sawchuk.

Overall, Chad Aldeman, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners who served in the education department during the Obama administration, said professional development can help boost teachers’ confidence and improve their content knowledge, but there isn’t a ton of evidence of that those benefits translate into student achievement gains.

But Deb Delisle, the executive director of ASCD, an educational leadership organization, said that gains in student outcomes is only one piece of the puzzle. Professional development helps teachers stay on top of their craft, she said.

“Attempting to define the success of professional development through the single measure of student achievement is flawed logic,” Delisle said in an email. “I wouldn’t trust a doctor who was not continually reading the latest in medical research, and likewise, we can’t pretend that educators don’t need continuous learning opportunities that will help them become more effective in their schools.”

Class-size reduction: Some studies of class-size reduction have shown some positive results, while others are inconclusive or don’t show much impact. Class-size reduction seems to have the biggest bang for the buck when it’s done on a large scale, slashing class size by seven or 10 students and in the earliest grades. (Good overview from the Brookings Institution here.)

Did the program change when Congress passed ESSA?

Yes, ESSA made some pretty major changes to the way Title II funding flows, as well as some programmatic tweaks. First, the funding stuff: The new law changed the formula for distributing the money, basing the dollars more on a state’s poverty levels and less on its overall population. The change isn’t slated to be fully phased in until fiscal year 2023—assuming Title II sticks around that long. The biggest winners under the formula change include California, Florida, and Texas—large states with influential congressional delegations. More here.

Under the previous version of federal K-12 law, the No Child Left Behind Act, states were allowed to keep up to 5 percent of their Title II funds. The law also allowed states to reserve up to 3 percent of their Title II funding for principal development.

How would getting rid of Title II impact ESSA implementation?

It could make the teacher-quality portion of states’ ESSA plans more difficult to implement. Those plans are due to be sent to the department beginning in early April.

Pedro Rivera, the state chief in Pennsylvania, said his state considered both teacher preparation and educator effectiveness in writing its plan, which proposes moving to a full-year internship for beginning teachers, and bolstering the state’s superintendent and principal academies, he said.

“Now some of the funding we were going [to use] is ... in jeopardy of going away,” Rivera said.

In fact, just days before releasing a budget that would get rid of Title II, the Trump administration put out a template for states to use in crafting their ESSA plans that asks, specifically, how states are planning to use their Title II dollars to implement the law.

Education First, which is consulting with states on the law’s implementation, has taken stock of how 28 states will use Title II to put their visions for the law into action. Check out its report here, and a summary from Teacher Beat here.

Will Title II really go away?

Probably not, guessed Aldeman, who noted that the money goes out to almost every congressional district. “There’s lots of people effected,” he said. “Almost every congressman has people who would be laid off because of this proposed budget cut.”

But the funding could be reduced. Last year, panels in both the House and Senate approved modest cuts to Title II funding to make room for other priorities. Those spending bills, which never made it to the president’s desk, would have kept the bulk of the money on the books, funding Title II at about $2 billion total, instead of the current $2.3 billion.

The Obama administration never proposed getting rid of the Title II program, or even cutting it substantially. But the program’s budget went from nearly $3 billion when Obama took office to about $2.3 billion by the time he left. The Obama administration asked for yet another, relatively small cut to the program in its last budget, for fiscal year 2017, which started on Oct. 1. And the Obama administration directed a portion of Title II funding to the Supporting Effective Educator Development Program, which doles out competitive grants for improving teacher quality.

Denisa R. Superville, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.