Obama Puts Money Where His Mouth Is
Abigail C. Evans, NAESP Government Relations Specialist
Communicator, Vol. 33, No. 7, March 2010

In his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama stated that the cure to a poor economy is a continued investment in the education of America’s young people. The first indication of Obama following through on this statement is seen in his budget request for fiscal year 2011, which outlines the administration’s priorities.

In Obama’s proposal, the U.S. Department of Education would receive an increase of $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2011, bringing the total discretionary budget for the department to $50.7 billion. The proposal shifts focus away from individual programs to broader “pots” of funds, streamlining 38 K-12 programs into 11 and eliminating six. A strong example of this shift in the funding proposal is its effect on principal professional development funding.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals has supported the School Leadership Program, which provides competitive grants to high-need districts to recruit and retain quality principals, since it was created in 2001. Under the president’s proposal, the School Leadership Program is eliminated and these activities could be funded through three large pots of funds known collectively as the Excellent Instructional Teams program, which includes:

  1. Effective Teachers and Leaders State grants;
  2. Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund; and
  3. Teacher and Leader Pathways.
Why This Matters to Principals

We cannot deny that principals are given higher priority in Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget proposal than in the past, and NAESP is grateful the administration recognizes the value of school principals. But as with most proposals, the devil is in the details. We must carefully watch exactly how the Department of Education plans to use these proposed funds. Here’s a summary of the funding associated with the Excellent Instructional Teams program.

Effective Teachers and Leaders State grants (proposed $2.5 billion). Provides funds to states by formula (i.e., by need) to recruit, prepare, retain, and reward effective teachers and principals. Funds from the Effective Teachers and Leaders State grants could be used for professional development, to establish high-quality evaluation and reward systems for teachers and principals, and to ensure the equitable distribution of teachers and principals throughout states and schools districts. According to the Department of Education, states would be held accountable for ensuring funds provided to districts are used effectively.

Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund (proposed $950 million). Provides competitive grants to states and districts to establish and implement innovative approaches to increasing human capital in high-need schools. This program is based in part on the Teacher Incentive Program (which would be eliminated in Obama’s proposal), and is intended to encourage advancement of the education work force through competition, evaluation, and rewards.

Teacher and Leader Pathways (proposed $405 million). Provides a new competitive grant program that focuses on improving teachers and principals for the purpose of turning around the country’s lowest performing schools. These grants could be awarded to colleges and universities or nonprofit organizations willing to work with districts or states to recruit, prepare, and retain quality teachers and principals, including investing in nontraditional educators.

You probably noticed that principal recruitment, retention, and professional development programs are lumped in with teacher preparation programs in the three funding streams described here. This approach is hardly surprising for a large federal agency attempting to streamline and eliminate redundancies and ineffective programming. We have seen how this has affected principals in the past. Under current law (No Child Left Behind), principals and teachers share funding for professional development activities under Title II. Unfortunately, principals only benefit from 3 percent of these available funds.

As the saying goes, “the president proposes and Congress disposes.” Ultimately, Congress determines what programs are approved and at what levels they will be funded. NAESP will work closely with the U.S. Department of Education and with Congress to secure fair and unambiguous funding for principal professional development opportunities.

In the meantime, principals can contact their federal legislators and encourage their support of a dedicated stream of funds for principal professional development in the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including funds for NAESP’s policy proposals in the areas of principal professional development for early childhood education and mentoring. For details about these policy proposals, visit www.naesp.org/frc.aspx.

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