The largest portion of President Donald Trump’s cuts to the Education Department in his 2019 budget proposal is buried within 160 pages and mentioned in a single sentence among a slew of other programs.
Making up more than half of the $3.6 billion total cuts to the agency, the budget plan calls for eliminating the $2.1 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant program in its entirety. The program, also known as Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is used by schools to pay for teacher professional development, reductions in class size, and the formation of new evaluation procedures.
Listed in a section entitled “Reduces Waste: Streamlines or Eliminates Ineffective or Redundant Program,” the administration barely gives any other explanation for the cuts.
Despite the lack of fanfare, the grant program is the key source of federal funding to support teacher training. A recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that schools use the funding not just for professional development, but to “build stronger teacher pipelines” and “modernize and elevate the teacher workforce” by recruiting teachers of color, providing mentoring, and increasing teacher salaries — practices that help prevent teacher attrition. (ThinkProgress is editorially independent of CAP.)
This is especially important at a time when teacher shortages have reached high levels across the country. Education Department data shows that districts in every state are struggling to fill teacher positions for a variety of subjects, including math, science, and special education.
“This would be a significant burden for states charged with staffing in these high need areas,” Constance Lindsay, research associate at the Urban Institute’s education policy department, told ThinkProgress.
The shortages have been a longstanding problem, with teacher education enrollments dropping by 35 percent between 2009 and 2014, according to a report by the Learning Policy Institute. The report highlighted the key trends leading to a decrease in the number of teachers, including high student-teacher ratios — an issue that Title II funding also seeks to resolve. According to the Department of Education, more than 40 percent of schools in the 2014-2015 school year used some Title II funds for class size reduction, and 14 percent of schools used all of their funds to reduce class size.
Gutting the Title II program would “be particularly hard felt in our higher poverty schools where educators and students need more support — not less,” explained nonprofit organization Education Trust. According to the organization, Title II money is distributed based on a formula that ensures districts with the highest percentage of students living in poverty receive the most funding. During the 2015-2016 school year, almost half of the money was distributed to the highest-poverty schools. Those schools are often the ones who stand to benefit the most from additional teacher training and professional development, and they typically serve the most diverse populations of students.
“Those students — they’re already going to school in strapped environments,” said Lindsay, adding that schools in high poverty areas “don’t have the resources on their own … it’ll hurt these kids the most.”
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has proposed cutting the program, and while the Obama administration also had its qualms about it — namely, that professional development funds should be better analyzed to measure their impact on student education — former Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested fixing the program, not getting rid of it. Last year, House Republicans unveiled a measure that also calls for the elimination of the program. It currently awaits committee consideration.