What Will House Republicans Do With The Teacher Incentive Fund?

Education Week’s Alyson Klein has a good roundup today of the education issues that may arise in a lame duck session of Congress, including addressing the stop-gap funding authorization for the Department of Education that will expire on December 3. Klein noted that the fate of Obama administration reform efforts like Race to the Top will hinge on how this process and the 2011 appropriations bills shake out.

One of the programs up for consideration is the Teacher Incentive Fund, which provides federal funding to support pay-for-performance programs for teachers and principals in high-need schools. As Robin Chait, Center for American Progress Associate Director for Teacher Quality, noted, the program is achieving its goals:

The program is advancing the kinds of reforms human capital systems in our schools need. Its latest iteration does more than the prior iteration of the program to leverage changes to policies besides teacher and principal compensation systems. For instance, it requires participating states and districts to develop comprehensive and aligned approaches to attracting, evaluating, and developing educators. This alignment — combined with other reform efforts — is key to ensuring that TIF promotes systemic changes in participating states, districts, and schools. The most recent group of programs funded by TIF grants demonstrate this new emphasis.

Chait highlighted the Mission Possible program in the Guilford County School System in Greensboro, NC, which operates in 30 high-need schools in the district and “has increased student graduation rates with the participating schools, significantly outperforming others in the county.”

The problem is that House Republicans, if they gain a majority, have pledged to reduce non-defense discretionary spending to the 2008 level. Such a move — in addition to significantly paring back Pell Grants and completely eliminating Race to the Top — would cut the Teacher Incentive Fund from $400 million to $97 million, leaving less than 25 percent of the program’s funding intact. And 60-80 new awards will be granted as a result of the 2010 funding level.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the lead architect of the House GOP’s Pledge to America, takes exception with the notion that the Republican plan would actually mean reductions in programs like those named above. “Well, see, people go out and pick the special little places,” he told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt over the weekend.

But that’s precisely the problem with the GOP’s approach to budgeting: laying out an across-the-board cut, but then exempting every item that a critic mentions, means that larger chunks will have to come out of the programs not deemed off limits. And at the end of the day, they’ve walled so much of the budget off that draconian cuts in the remaining programs — like the Teacher Incentive Fund — will be the only way to actually achieve their desired savings.