K-12 Reform Through Appropriations

Normally we think of federal K-12 policy as shifting through periodic reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Most recently was the iteration known as No Child Left Behind. At some point, the Obama administration wants to do a re-write packed with its various ideas. But realistically, that’s likely to be deferred until after the midterms. But Robin Chait observes that there’s a lot Congress can do through the appropriations process to help drive reform in terms of ensuring that underprivileged students have access to better teachers and other school personnel. Specifically, congress can simply decide to fund a couple of key initiatives that are proposed in the president’s budget:

The president’s budget invests almost a billion dollars in a new competitive grant program, The Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, that would reward states and districts for implementing better systems for recruiting, developing, and retaining effective teachers and principals in high needs schools. This initiative is proposed as part of the administration’s blueprint for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It builds on the existing Teacher Incentive Fund that CAP has supported and written about and resembles a proposal that CAP offered in a January 2009 report. […]

The Teacher and Leader Pathways program would also offer competitive grants to states and school districts to “recruit, prepare and retain effective principals and school leadership teams with the skills to turn around low-performing schools.” The focus on preparing leadership teams to turnaround low-performing schools is critical. One of the greatest challenges to districts’ capacity to turnaround schools is the challenge of finding the school leaders with the skills to do the work. Federal support for recruiting and preparing educators specifically to meet this need is a wise and much-needed investment.

There’s precedent for this in the Teacher Incentive Fund that the administration proposed a while ago and that got funded last year even though it’s never been formally “authorized” as part of ESEA. Over the long run this isn’t the ideal way to make policy, and it is important that congress actually do the reauthorization at some point. But there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with on the Hill so that may not be plausible for a while, and it’s no reason not to move forward with good ideas.