(Washington, D.C.) – Today, at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee (HELP), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about proposals that could have serious implications for Washington state teachers and students, including one that could cut aid to state by up to $15 million and put teacher training and evaluation in jeopardy.
Murray asked Duncan to justify a $450 million proposed cut to teacher quality state grants, which would unfairly penalize students in states with fewer resources, and could potentially cost Washington state millions of dollars in aid. She urged him to focus on ensuring that every state has the resources it needs to prepare and evaluate their teachers, particularly at a time when states are making major changes and improvements in how they prepare and support teachers and principals.
Last fiscal year Washington state received $47.7 million in Teacher Quality State Grants. But under the Administration’s current proposal this funding could be cut by up to $15 million, which would significantly reduce support for state programs that help teachers and principals improve and better serve their students. Murray insisted that this proposal would increase the gap between struggling and successful schools. See the full back and forth on this issue below.
Murray also expressed her concerns about Duncan’s plans to only fund fewer than half of states’ literacy programs at a time when we need to be providing our students with every tool possible to succeed. Murray recently introduced the LEARN Act, which would fund comprehensive literacy programs in every state in the country.
Duncan also said that he had changed his proposal to reflect Senator Murray’s concern that Title I funding couldn’t be used to fund transportation for homeless students. Murray has been a leader in the Senate in fighting for homeless students, and she brought this issue up to Duncan over the last few months in hearings and private conversations. The number of homeless students in Washington state has increased by nearly 7,000 students in the past four years, a 33% increase. Many districts around the nation have seen a 90% increase in the number of homeless students over the past few years. The proposed change would allow education funds for low-income students to be used in part to ensure that homeless students can remain in their school despite unpredictable housing situations to provide stability and help raise student achievement.
Senator Murray’s Q&A with Duncan follows:
Teacher Quality: Formula Funds vs. Competitive Funds
Murray: Secretary Duncan—Your budget proposal and ESEA blueprint would put additional emphasis on teacher evaluation, educator preparation, and professional development.
I agree, these are absolutely critical. We owe it to students and our communities to ensure that students have the best educators preparing them for success. In fact, my home state of Washington is working on legislation right now that would improve teacher evaluation systems and supports to raise student achievement. And I want every state to have the resources they need to prepare their teachers and school leaders.
But I have some serious concerns about the way the Administration proposes to allocate these funds. States across the country are struggling, and it takes significant resources to do a good job of evaluating and supporting our teachers. So I am really worried by the Administration’s proposal to cut $450 million from teacher quality state grants. If this funding was cut, Washington state could lose up to $15 million per year for this vital program.
As you know, states will depend on these grants to revamp their teacher evaluation systems and to increase opportunities for teachers and principals to improve their practice. These grants also provide opportunities to ensure that our school leaders are ready to take on the challenges of turning around the schools that are struggling the most.
So, my first question is—what is the rationale behind cutting formula grants to states in one of the toughest state budget climates, at a time when we are asking states to make major changes in teacher and leader preparation, and when teachers and principals are taking on significant additional responsibilities?
Duncan: Let me just be clear for the committee and the record—the overall majority of our money, almost three quarters of the money will continue to be formula based. So, Title I money, $14.5 billion will continue to be that way. IDA money, $11.8 billion- up $250 million will continue to be based on a formula way. And teachers and leaders- that large pool of money we have is a 10% increase- up $350 million to $3.86 billion. The challenges Senator I think we face as a country is that we’ve invested billions of dollars in this- and teacher evaluation in our country is broken. I went before the NEA’s national convention with 5,500 teachers and talked about how evaluation doesn’t work for any of the adults, and everybody cheered. And I went to the AFT’s convention with 2,500 members and talked about teacher evaluation being broken, and everybody cheered. So we’ve spent as a country billions and billions of dollars for something that doesn’t work for high performing teachers, it doesn’t work for teachers in the middle, and it doesn’t work for teachers at the bottom who after support and improvement wasn’t working should be doing something else.
Murray: Maybe some of the states aren’t using it in a way that’s currently effective, but if we take the fund of teacher quality state grants, teacher prep work- which is so important- and put it into a competitive fund, what I fear is that there is going to be an ever bigger gap between the states that are ahead today and moving ahead, and states that are just beginning these reforms.
Duncan: To be clear, nothing precludes us from funding every state. But what we’re saying is that states have to take a close look in the mirror. States and districts- and a lot of this should be done at the district level, within the state’s parameters- this needs to be worked out at the local level between unions and between the local management and boards of education. So there’s nothing that precludes us from funding everybody, but honestly what we don’t want to do is continue to fund the status quo. When it doesn’t work for any adult, it’s not working for children either.
Murray: I can understand requiring states to undertake activities to improve their teacher quality grants. But if we make this into a winner-loser competitive thing, we are going to create a bigger gap.
Duncan: Again, to be very clear- it doesn’t have to be winners and losers. But what we are saying- and people can agree or disagree- we’re saying that the status quo is broken. It is absolutely broken after billions of dollars of investment.
Murray: Be careful that what you don’t do is say “OK, you guys are really starting to make progress, and making progress- you get the money. But those of you who are struggling, we’re just cutting you out.” Because that won’t help the states.
Duncan: Let me be clear. That’s never been our interest, and it’s never been our intent. It may be broken today- but we’re interested in: are you willing to move? Are you willing to improve? So that state where the system is absolutely broken- OK, we all agree on that. And frankly that’s pretty much every state in the country. So it’s not like anyone is knocking this out. I had a great conversation the other day with Randi Weingarten. And I said can you tell me one place that’s doing this impeccably well? She couldn’t think of one off the top of her head. And so it’s not where you’re at, but where you’re willing to go. And so folks who are willing to move, that’s where we want to invest. Again, a 10% increase in investments- we want to put resources there, I promise you that. But if folks say “you know, we’re fine, status quo, don’t change,” then we have a challenge there.
Murray: I don’t think anyone’s saying status quo. But what we’re saying is: don’t create a competitive grant where if you’ve already got the capability to win, then you win more. And I think we would like to work with you on that more.
Murray: Secretary Duncan- I know you and I agree that effective literacy instruction is a critical educational building block that keeps students engaged in school and on track to succeed in college and a career.
We know that children who are not at least modestly skilled readers by the end of third grade are far less likely to graduate from high school—and are far less likely to succeed in today’s global economy.
And we know that literacy can be a critical component in turning around struggling schools.
So I want to thank you for your enthusiastic support of the Striving Readers program. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with you on the concepts behind this program—as well as on the LEARN Act, a bill I introduced last year that would improve comprehensive literacy instruction in every state in the country.
However, I am very concerned about one major difference between our literacy proposals.
I strongly believe that with a content area like literacy, which is really at the base of all other learning, every state should have the support of the federal government in meeting the literacy needs of every student.
But the Administration’s 2011 budget would create a competitive literacy program for just some states, rather than a formula program for all states.
If we want every state is to have a comprehensive plan in place to address the literacy needs of its students, why would we only support the efforts of 15-20 states to help students gain the literacy skills they need to succeed in college and in their careers?
Duncan: That’s a very, very fair question, and to be clear, we haven’t said we will only support the work of 15-20 states and obviously we want to make sure that folks are breaking through. We have a about a 10% increase in funds for literacy. But your point is well taken and it’s one I’m happy to work with you on.
Murray: I’d like to work with you because I want to make sure we don’t leave out states in this important area.
Homeless student transportation
Duncan: One more thing before you go. You had talked at a previous hearing about your concern about the inability of using Title I money to fund the transportation of homeless students, and in our proposal we will have that flexibility.