Commentary, Trump Administration

Trump budget would eliminate professional development funding for NC educators

President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint offers bad news for public schools. His proposal – which, thankfully, has a way to go before becoming law – proposes eliminating all professional development funding for teachers and principals. The elimination of the $2.4 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants program (also known as Title II) would reduce North Carolina school districts’ budgets by approximately $45 million and leave North Carolina school districts without any dedicated funding for professional development.

The elimination of federal professional development funding follows a path already pursued by the North Carolina General Assembly. Prior to the Recession, the state provided school districts with approximately $12.5 million per year for staff development. That funding was eliminated, on what was supposed to be a temporary basis, until state revenues recovered. In 2011, the General Assembly permanently eliminated dedicated state funding for professional development.

The elimination of professional development funding flies in the face of research. High-quality professional development (training that is job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated) has a direct impact on student achievement. A comprehensive meta-analysis of the impact of professional development found that “teachers who receive substantial professional development…can boost their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points.” Another more recent report concludes that “investments in high-quality principal training yield substantial benefits in student achievement, as well as teacher quality and retention.”

Professional development is also vital for recruitment and retention. Professionals in any field seek to continually improve their practices and performance. This is particularly true in education, where teachers face an evolving, and often increasing, set of responsibilities. For example, modern teachers are expected to successfully differentiate instruction for an increasingly diverse set of students, including:

  • advanced learners and struggling learners;
  • English language learners and native speakers; and
  • disabled and non-disabled students.

Additionally, teachers are expected to teach newer, more rigorous academic standards, incorporate technology, and embed literacy instruction in their lesson plans. Consequently, a majority of North Carolina teachers report needing professional development for differentiating instruction, closing the achievement gap, and integrating technology into instruction. Teachers will be unable to meet these expectations without high-quality professional development.

Of course, other funding streams can be used to support professional development. But the flexibility to use other funds for professional development is of limited use to school districts facing severe budget constraints. School resources in North Carolina still remain below the levels seen at the depths of the Recession. The legal authority to purchase goods and services is no substitute for funding to purchase goods and services.

Hopefully policymakers in both Washington and Raleigh will reconsider their approach to professional development. The State Board of Education’s 2017 budget request includes $17 million for professional development initiatives. Unfortunately, the return of state funding would only partially offset the elimination of $45 million of federal funding if President Trump’s misguided budget priorities are implemented.

North Carolina’s congressional delegation includes a number of influential policymakers. Two North Carolina U.S. Representatives are members of the House Education & the Workforce committee: Rep. Virginia Foxx (NC-5, also the committee chairwoman) and Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12). On the Senate side, Sen. Richard Burr is a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. Hopefully, these congresspeople will step up to defend this much-needed, evidence-based source of federal funding for our public schools.

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