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As Congress Mulls Slashing $2B in Title II Funds, Educators See Cuts Devastating Critical School Leadership

By Mareesa Nicosia | August 9, 2017

Photo: Getty Images
Action by the House Appropriations Committee last month to gut a $2.1 billion funding stream used to train teachers, principals, and other staff could be disastrous for school districts throughout the country, advocates and administrators say.

The $66 billion approved for the Education Department cuts $2.4 billion from the current plan, almost all of it coming from so-called Title II, Part A funds. The idea of eliminating Title II was first proposed by President Trump, whose administration said the money was “poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact.”

Fort Wayne, Indiana, one of the largest districts in the Hoosier state, has run a successful school leader mentoring program for 12 years that now relies on Title II funds after intermittent years of grant funding.

“Our [Title II] funds are truly used to support teachers and to support [school] leadership in supporting teachers,” said Ramona Lynn Coleman, who manages professional learning for the 31,000-student Fort Wayne Community Schools. “It would really be a hardship on the district to not have that funding.”

The district works with the nonprofit New York City Leadership Academy to train teachers who aspire to be principals. Each year, six to 10 Fort Wayne teachers are selected to participate in a year-long “internship” in which they are closely mentored by a principal to learn the ropes about school leadership. The training comes at not-insignificant cost to the district, Coleman said, since substitute teachers are assigned to participants’ classrooms for the year.

But the effort has apparently paid off: For the past five years, the district has placed every teacher who has completed the program in an assistant principal role, Coleman said, and many have moved on to become principals and gained skills to fill other administrative positions. More than 110 educators have gone through the program.

This is exactly the kind of result that NYCLA aims for, said Mary Jo Dunnington, senior vice president of client engagement. NYCLA trainers focus on building capacity within districts so school leaders can sustain the training on their own in the future. (New York City just recently announced that after years of partnering with NYCLA to build capacity, the school district will now take the reins in overseeing the training of aspiring principals.)

“It’s not just about drive-by [service],” Dunnington said. Sustained, relevant professional development that is embedded in educators’ jobs is the most fruitful, she said, citing research compiled by the Rainwater Leadership Alliance.

NYCLA has provided leadership training and coaching to administrators, teachers, and staff since 2003, working with educators in 150 public school districts in 32 states and Washington, D.C., as well as internationally. It also works with charter and parochial schools, state education departments, universities, foundations, and other nonprofits.

The academy marked its 14th year training school leaders in June with an event that brought together current New York City Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña and her predecessor, Joel Klein, who both support its vision.

“That’s the way you change a system: Get great leadership, hold them accountable, but empower them,” said Klein, known for viewing principals as CEOs. “Don’t try to micromanage them. Don’t try to control them. Let them do their work, and let them rise to greatness. I saw that time and again.”

The potential loss of Title II funding also conflicts with several states’ strategies for implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, NYCLA officials noted. More than 100 House Democrats agreed, writing to Appropriations Committee leaders, arguing that ending the funding will hurt states’ ability to carry out ESSA.

Vermont, for one, wants to invest in a School Leadership Academy and create a statewide pipeline of effective principals. Michigan included in its ESSA plan a leadership training program that has a residency component backed by research.

“ESSA really highlights the importance of professional learning and raising the bar for professional learning, so cutting Title II goes against what Congress had agreed was important in the authorized education law,” said Jill Grossman, senior director of communications and research at NYCLA.

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NYCLA is among several organizations that have been advocating for Congress to preserve Title II funding. New Leaders, another New York City–based program that trains school leaders to work in high-poverty schools, warned that losing these resources would risk increased teacher and principal turnover. This would “exacerbate talent shortages and achievement gaps. Ultimately, these dramatic cuts will make it more difficult for educators to prepare all young people for success,” the group said in a statement.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the American Federation of School Administrators called the move to slice Title II funding “unconscionable.”

“With an abundance of research pointing to educator quality as the primary factor in student success, a budget that singles out support for educators as unworthy of federal investment sends the public a message that Congress does not care about the educators that serve over 35 million students in our nation’s schools,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Whether the Title II cut will come to pass is unclear. The full House has not agreed on the spending measure, and while the Senate hasn’t put out its own version yet either, Education Week reported that it did announce that it was setting aside a total of $164 billion for Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Education Department. That’s $8 billion more than the House bill and could create room for negotiation.

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