When I taught government class, I told my high school students that a budget outlines the priorities in which you are willing to invest. While President Obama clearly values education, the U.S. Department of Education budget does not directly support the growing professional learning and development needs of the nation’s principals. The president has proposed a $70.7 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Education, a 5.4 percent increase over FY 2015. Furthermore, the department’s budget increases investments in the ESEA programs by $2.7 billion, or 11.8 percent over FY 2015 levels ($26 billion total).
While there are several increases in important federal investments in education, such as in Title I and IDEA, the president’s budget does not adhere to the discretionary spending caps established under the Budget Control Act brokered by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) in 2013. As the caps stand now, appropriations for FY 2016 would be effectively frozen for a second year at about $1.017 trillion. However, President’s Obama’s budget increases the cap by $74 billion that would be split evenly between defense and domestic spending.
The Department of Education’s budget identifies four key areas for investment: high-quality early learning; equity and opportunity for all students; supporting teachers and school leaders; and access, affordability, and student outcomes in college. While NASSP is pleased to see a focus on supporting school leaders, that priority does not bear out in the president’s budget. The Administration’s budget consolidates the only federal program dedicated to recruiting, mentoring, and training principals and assistant principals to serve in high-need schools into a larger funding stream to support teacher and principal preparation. We find this problematic for two reasons: 1) The School leadership Program does more than just prepare school leaders, but provides professional development, ongoing support, and retention initiatives to strengthen the continuum of effective school leadership, and 2) barely 4 percent of Title II funds currently go to principal professional development. To that end, we are also disappointed that the president level-funded investments in Title II for FY 2016 at $2.3 billion dollars. NASSP has been a strong advocate for a set-aside of funds within Title II to support specialized professional learning and growth opportunities as principals continue to lead schools in implementing more rigorous college and career-readiness standards, new teacher evaluation systems, and support for digital learning and transitions to online assessments.
We are also disappointed to see the refocus of the Striving Readers program, from a state comprehensive literacy program supporting children from birth to grade 12 to a local grant initiative that would only be required to serve at least two grade levels in a high-need school. This change would undo all the promising results for combatting the literacy gap facing so many of the nation’s students. The six states that receive discretionary funding under the current Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program to support school districts in improving literacy instruction for the neediest students all report increases in literacy achievement.
The president’s budget does win some accolades for increasing Title I funding by $1 billion dollars and by increasing IDEA state grants by $175 million. However, while the president responded to our calls to increase investments in foundational educational programs, the resources provided to IDEA still fall far short of the 40 percent of per-pupil expenses promised by the federal government to states that support special education services. As schools continue to transform their buildings and classrooms into hubs of digital learning, we were pleased to see the budget proposal include $200 million dollars for Educational Technology state grants program to support exemplary models of technology-based instruction in high-need districts.
The president also proposes three new competitive grant programs: Next Generation High Schools, Teaching for Tomorrow (TFT), and Excellent Educators. The Next Generation High Schools program, $125 million STEM-focused competitive grant initiative would support a comprehensive transformation of the high school experience to provide challenging and relevant learning opportunities to prepare students for postsecondary education and/or careers.
The Teaching for Tomorrow (TFT) program would provide $1 billion over five years in mandatory spending to recruit, train, support, and retain highly effective teachers. There is some concern that the purpose of this new program is to help states implement the Education Department’s new and controversial teacher preparation regulations. Lastly, the budget request includes an expanded version of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) for teachers and principals, called the Excellent Educator grants, which would allow states and districts to develop and implement not only compensation-based programs, but innovative approaches to professional development, support, and career advancement based on an analysis of local need.
We look forward to working with Congress to ensure our nation’s students, schools, and principals receive the maximum federal investment to support the success of each student.