Friday, September 17, 2021

The federal budget and Title II funding


The education portion of the budget President Donald Trump proposed in May would cut education funding by $9.2 billion while giving more money for school choice initiatives, including a 50-percent increase in federal funding for charter schools, a half-billion-dollar increase, the Washington Post reported.

Although the cuts are likely to be scaled back considerably in any budget that actually passes Congress, certain programs, especially those that don’t make headlines, could fall off the table during negotiations and chip away at the quality of schools. I’m talking about Title II funds, which Mr Trump’s proposal would zero out.

A blueprint of the budget, which passed the Senate last week, would keep funding for Title II at a level that matches the current year’s funding. But when reconciled with the budget the House passed on a party-line vote, which, like Mr Trump’s old proposal, cuts all $2.1 billion out of Title II, even that funding level might get a little lower.

Now, Title II isn’t the most important program that might get cut by any means—Mr Trump’s proposal also cuts

  • $1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million mostly-poor children
  • a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college
  • a $27 million arts education program
  • 2 programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, $65 million
  • 2 international education and foreign language programs, $72 million
  • a $12 million program for gifted students
  • $12 million from Special Olympics education programs

But again, that’s old news, as versions of a federal budget are now in play in the House and Senate, and federal officials have never recognized the true value of Title II.

Arne Duncan, former education secretary under Barack Obama, once famously had difficulty coming up with a single school that was actually using Title II funds effectively. These are normally used for professional development for teachers with activities like paying for them to attend seminars and workshops.

Mr Duncan in 2012: “So as we fight for additional resources, we also have to be honest about that $2.5 billion investment [in Title II] … to see what is necessary to really help teachers master their craft and hone their skills. I think the honest answer is that, in most places, we are not even close.”

In addition to bureaucrats in Washington who work to improve our schools, this professional development has been characterized by some educators as mediocre. But we can’t escape the fact that most states require teachers to keep up their training and to show the hours they spend in order to renew their teaching licenses.

The funds are also used to reduce class sizes in some schools by simply providing more teachers. They’re used by schools and state departments of education to help offset some of the huge costs imposed on them so they can develop more effective statewide standardized tests.

As with Mr Duncan’s inability to find real effectiveness in professional development, you can argue about whether those tests are good or not. But what you can’t do, in my view anyway, is require states to give the tests and then take money away that helps states make them better. However, this wouldn’t be the first budget move Republicans or this president has proposed that just doesn’t make mathematical sense or even logical sense.

Plus, teachers would lose jobs if Title II funding were completely cut. Education Week quoted National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García as characterizing the Title II cuts as “draconian”: “If enacted, it will deprive millions of students of opportunities by eliminating funding that will result in nearly 8,500 educators losing their jobs, slashing funding for class-size reduction programs, cutting funding for after-school programs that serve the students most in need, and limiting or eliminating professional development opportunities for nearly 2.5 million educators,” she was quoted as saying.

But, in justifying the Title II cuts for the “Supporting Effective Instruction” state grants, the administration said that “SEI grants are poorly targeted and funds are spread too thinly to have a meaningful impact on student outcomes. In addition, there is limited evidence that teacher professional development, a primary activity funded by the program, has led to increases in student achievement.”

The truth is probably somewhere in between those two positions on Title II. Although much of that professional development strikes teachers who attend the workshops as being on the mediocre side, teachers have to complete so many hours of it under state licensing laws. And there’s no getting away from tests, and cuts to Title II will make those tests worse, without the involvement of teachers. They’ll be labeled by a future leader as being “ineffective” without mentioning that the reason they had become ineffective was that cuts were made to funds that helped develop better tests right now.

The administration admittedly has higher priorities at the moment than Title II: tax cuts, the DREAM Act, and other important legislation. But mark my words: In several years, we’ll be hearing about how we might as well just stay in bed instead of working so hard to develop more valid, more reliable, and fairer tests for students today and provide feedback and continuing education that might help teachers do a better job of teaching our students. And the dumbing down of America will continue. These are the signs.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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