For years, the education system throughout the United States seemed to stall under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Principals, in particular, were treated unfairly under the bill, especially with regard to school performance. Most notably, if an institution receiving a School Improvement Grant failed to succeed after two years, it was forced to replace its principal.

However, in December 2015, Congress ushered in a new era of education policy by passing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is meant to grant more power to states and school districts in order to provide them with the flexibility necessary to improve their systems to better serve all students and improve achievement. ESSA also provided new opportunities for federal funds to directly support principals. This came in the form of Title II, Part A of the bill, also known as Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants.

Authorized at $2.295 billion in ESSA, Title II provides formula funding to states for the purpose of preparing, training, recruiting, and retaining high-quality teachers, principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders. These funds can be used for a variety of purposes, including to reform school-leader certification or preparation programs; strengthen school leader evaluation and comprehensive support systems; and develop school leader residency, induction, and mentoring programs. ESSA also included new language, championed by NASSP and other national organizations, that allows states to reserve 3 percent of their Title II funds specifically for school-leader activities.

As states continue to develop their ESSA plans, many have decided to take advantage of this 3 percent designation. To examine how states plan on using these new funds directly for principals, the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) recently released a report titled “Investing in Effective School Leadership: How States Are Taking Advantage of Opportunities Under ESSA.” The report breaks down plans from 11 states to highlight the ways that these funds can be used to benefit principals and, in turn, their teachers and students. Some examples include the development of mentoring programs to help train and develop future principals, the creation of academies to provide high-quality professional learning opportunities for school leaders, and the construction of context-specific, residency-based preparation programs specifically targeted to aid principals in high-need districts.

While states continue to finalize their state plans with the ESSA-authorized funding levels in mind, new problems have arisen in the federal budget process. The FY 2017 omnibus provides new funding levels for the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and its programs. Total ED spending covering K-12 issues fell by $60 million from FY 16, bringing it down to $71.6 billion. This included a $294 million cut to Title II, dropping its funding level to $2.1 billion for the remainder of FY 2017. President Donald Trump has even gone a step further in attempting to cut funds for Title II. In his FY 2018 budget request, Trump has called for the complete elimination of Title II funds. While many congressional offices and politicos have deemed Trump’s budget to be far too extreme to actually be implemented or voted on by Congress, it is still extremely disheartening to see such a drastic cut proposed for a particularly beneficial program.

The FY 2017 omnibus is set to expire on October 1, 2017. Congress is still working through the budget process for FY 2018, and Title II remains a program on the chopping block. NASSP has taken a lead role in protecting these funds by gathering a group of national organizations together to advocate on the importance of Title II. This group-consisting of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the American Federation of School Administrators, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, New Leaders, and Learning Forward-has taken a number of different routes to influence legislators, including a Title II Day of Action on June 14 during which individuals, organizations, and legislators posted messages about Title II on social media, reaching more than 920,000 people. The group has also drafted letters to the appropriations committees of both chambers and aided their congressional champions Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Tom Carper (D-DE), and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) in leading their own letters supporting Title II.

While these efforts are helping the fight to protect Title II, the voice of constituents always carries the most weight for an elected official. NASSP encourages its members to get involved by contacting their congressional representatives to let them know they support funds that can help better the nation’s students by bettering their educators. 

Editor’s Note: For more information on ESSA, see the Roundtable in this issue of Principal Leadership.  

Zachary Scott is the manager of advocacy at NASSP.