Advocacy Update: Principals Mobilize to Advocate for America’s Public Schools
By Kelly D. Pollitt
April 2017, Volume 40, Issue 8
Congress returned from spring break in late April to address budget and appropriations issues; the current continuing resolution that is funding the government for FY 2017 is set to expire at the end of April. At issue are significant funding cuts proposed by the Trump administration to existing programs in FY 2017 for the remainder of the fiscal year. In addition, NAESP is concerned about even deeper cuts proposed in the FY 2018 “skinny” budget. In light of the work under way across the country where states and districts are drafting plans to implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), principals must continue to mobilize this year around critical funding for key programs that will help them meet the expectations that states and districts will set related to new accountability and assessment systems.
Title II Funding on the Chopping Block
In early March, the Trump administration released an abbreviated budget proposal to Congress for FY 2018 before the full budget is unveiled later this year, likely sometime in May. NAESP was troubled by the proposal that calls for significant cuts and elimination of programs that support schools, educators, and students. Citing “scant evidence of impact,” the Trump budget proposal eliminates the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program—commonly known as Title II, Part A formula grants to states—which are used by districts and schools to help teachers and principals improve teaching methods in the classrooms through ongoing professional learning. The funds are also used to pay for additional teacher support or positions in many schools. ESSA includes a new provision that will allow states to set aside a portion of funds to directly support principals. Overwhelmingly, principals have indicated that, without these funds, districts will not have the extra resources to provide quality professional development activities for school leaders.
NAESP encourages all principals to identify how Title II, Part A funds are used by their districts to support educators in schools, and share that information with lawmakers using NAESP’s Legislative Action Center. Contacting lawmakers is critical to prevent cuts to the program in the remaining months of FY 2017, as well as to stop the program’s elimination in FY 2018.
In addition, and equally troubling, the Trump proposal eliminates any funding for before-, after-, and summer school programs. Funding for these ESSA programs are imperative to give the new law a chance to be successful and to realize its full potential. Many state and local ESSA plans will be contingent on Congress providing the authorized levels of funding for programmatic areas that are identified for intervention, such as professional learning and support for social and emotional learning, inclusive practices, and other important investments in helping children succeed.
All principals can use the following talking points related to funding for key ESSA programs:
- Congress must negotiate FY 2017 spending in education at the authorized levels for programs in the ESSA, and come to an agreement for FY 2018 spending that eliminates the discretionary caps.
- Congress must fund the following ESSA programs at their authorized levels as intended when the bipartisan law was passed:
- Title I formula grants authorized at $15 billion in FY 2017 and $15.5 billion in
- FY 2018;
- Title II, Part A authorized at $2.3 billion for FY 2017 and FY 2018;
- School Leadership Recruitment and Support Program authorized by Title II of ESSA at not less than $15.9 million for FY 2017 and FY 2018;
- Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) authorized by Title II of ESSA at $200 million in FY 2017 and FY 2018;
- Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (SSAEG) at the authorized level of $1.65 billion in FY 2017 and FY 2018; and
- Preschool development grants authorized by ESSA at $250 million in FY 2017 and FY 2018.
Principals also can call on Congress to Increase funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to fulfill the promise to help states pay for the learning needs of students with disabilities.
Policy Direction That Divests in Public Education
In addition to the funding cuts for schools and educators, another NAESP concern regarding the Trump proposal is a request for $1.4 billion to boost school “choice.” The budget proposal asks Congress to fund:
- $1 billion for Title I portability, a voucher-like mechanism that allows Title I funds to “follow the child”;
- $250 million for a private school choice voucher program; and
- $168 million for charter school expansion.
As part of the school choice push, the budget would include a $1 billion increase for Title I grants for disadvantaged students, currently funded at nearly $15 billion. However, the new money would come with strings attached: States and districts would be encouraged to use the funds for a system of “student-based budgeting and open enrollment that enables federal, state, and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.” This policy—known as portability—was defeated in ESSA and didn’t make its way into the final legislation.
Principals must let lawmakers know that they oppose any effort or mandate in the form of a school voucher program or tax credit that would redirect current funding for public education to private schools, especially where there is no state or local accountability to improving the quality of the educational experience for young children and students.
For example, NAESP opposes H.R. 691/S. 265, the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act. The bill would turn IDEA into a voucher program, shifting scarce public funds for special education to private institutions, which are not bound by federal and state laws to ensure accountability on staffing, programming, and personalization for students with disabilities.
Principals must also tell lawmakers to oppose any federal legislation that would force Title I funds to follow a student to the school of his or her choice rather than being appropriated to the neighborhood school, thus limiting funds for public education institutions; as well as any bill that would create a nationwide education voucher program through block grants to states. Tax credits for individual taxpayers for charitable contributions to a scholarship-granting organization are also not a strong vision to support public education. These programs ultimately pay for students to attend private schools of their parents’ choice with little accountability and a big diversion of federal funds from public education.
In addition to using NAESP’s Legislative Action Center to contact lawmakers, principals can invite federal legislators to visit public schools and witness the programs and services that are the hallmark of public education, particularly wraparound services that help meet the learning needs of students and ensure equitable educational experiences. Upon Congress’ return to finish an FY 2017 spending package and take on the FY 2018 budget, NAESP will continue to put forward the voice of the nation’s pre-K-8 principals.
For more information about NAESP’s advocacy agenda, contact Kelly D. Pollitt, chief strategist for policy and alliances.
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