Teaching Profession

ESSA’s Teacher-Quality Grant: Everything You Need to Know

By Stephen Sawchuk — April 13, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but the federal government puts more than $2 billion annually into teacher quality and professional-development efforts.

Better known as Title II-A, this formula program reaches every state and district and is the largest single appropriation for K-12 after Title I.

The Every Student Succeeds Act revamped parts of Title II, among other things, renaming it from the unoriginal State Teacher Quality Grants to Supporting Effective Instruction grants.

But does a big wonky program, by any other name, still smell as, uh, sweet? Find out in our new explainer to ESSA’s main teacher quality fund.

Is the funding formula different?

Yes. The new formula is distributed under a ratio that considers both states’ K-12 populations and poverty counts. Now, the formula is weighed even more heavily in terms of poverty. Southern states will see increased funding from this, and Rust Belt states’ cut of funds will shrink. See this blog item for more information on that.

Also, note that the program has diminished somewhat over time. The Title II fund was over $3 billion annually in the early days of NCLB. In fiscal 2016, Congress funded it at about $2.3 billion.

Do states and districts have to spend their money on different things?

For the most part, no. Your fearless blogger, armed with three colored pencils and a lot of patience, tried to figure out whether there are any major differences in what states and districts are allowed to do with their share of Title II funding.

Pretty much everything you could do under No Child Left Behind is still authorized. The descriptions are changed around somewhat and there are some new uses of funds added. But for the most part, it’s better to think of this as a funding stream rather than a coherent program.

In a way, comparing these two laws demonstrates how different policy ideas come into and out of vogue. The NCLB iteration put more emphasis on content knowledge, a big feature of that law’s “highly qualified” teacher provisions, and mentions “merit pay.” That term has fallen out of favor, so the new law uses the broader “differentiated” pay instead, but it’s the same basic idea.

Both talk about supporting teachers’ understanding of state standards, about revisions to certification and tenure, about supporting alternative routes and programs to recruit and retain educators, and about additional career opportunities for teachers. (ESSA uses the somewhat awful jargon “hybrid roles.”) Class-size reduction is an allowable use of district funds under both laws.

So, is there anything new at all here?

There are a few interesting additions: ESSA also references teacher “residency” programs, which weren’t in operation back in the early NCLB days. And it’s easy to spot the fingerprints of interest-group lobbying, with new nods in here to PD for teaching gifted students; school library programs; the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math); the transition from pre-K to elementary; and so on.

There are of course, some different points of emphasis. Reforms to teacher evaluation aren’t explicitly referenced in NCLB’s Title II; under ESSA, such reforms are the first authorized use of state funds.

But the bottom line is that states and districts can still do pretty much anything they want, including what they were doing under NCLB, as long as it’s teacher- and principal-related.

The new law does, as elsewhere in ESSA, make a reference to funded activities being “evidence based,” but there’s a caveat that that’s only to the extent that the state and districts determine “that such evidence is reasonably available.” (Good luck to the U.S. Department of Education in enforcing that one!)

What about the set-asides in this program? Have those changed?

Yes. What has notably changed are the various set-asides. States still get to reserve 5 percent of the appropriation in total, but, controversially, of that they can put 2 percent towards teacher- and leadership-preparation academies, which don’t have to follow the same state teacher-preparation rules about requirements, credit hours, and so on. (Read more on those in this item.) They can also explicitly reserve an additional 3 percent for principal training.

See our chart below for more information on how Title II funding flows through states to districts.

Can’t get enough of ESSA? We’ve got more for you on the law’s other major teacher provisions, including the elimination of the “highly qualified” mandate, new program authorizations, and much, much more.

See also:

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