Legislation Restores Education Cuts, Fails to Restore Cuts to School Leadership Program

On Jan. 17, 2014, President Obama signed the Fiscal Year 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act into law. This bipartisan legislation goes a long way toward reversing the recent torrent of education cuts, caps, freezes, sequesters and shutdowns that have inflicted serious harm on schools and the children they serve.

Important highlights of the legislation include:

  • $1.6 billion in sequestration cuts restored for Department of Education programs;
  • Title I grants, which help districts educate poor children, financed at $14.4 billion. This is a $624 million increase over sequestration levels, but does not quite restore the grants to their previous high of $14.5 billion in fiscal year 2012, before the sequestration cuts hit;
  • A $1 billion increase to Head Start. Much of the increase—$500 million—will bolster Early Head Start, serving children ages birth through 3. The bill includes $2.4 billion for child care and development block grants, which help states offer child care assistance to needy families. This is an increase of $154 million over last year’s levels (AFSA sent a letter to the Senate in December calling for funding to be restored to these critical programs);
  • A $250 million increase for state preschool grants; however, these grants are through Race to the Top, leaving a lot of the decisions to the administration; and
  • A $28 million increase for school safety programs. In total, the bill provides nearly $140 million for school safety, up from $111 million in fiscal year 2013.

Additionally, the legislation includes new language for school improvement grants (SIG). Under the new law, schools no longer have to choose from one of the administration’s four controversial turnaround models that AFSA adamantly opposes, as they either require the immediate dismissal of the principal, converting the school to a charter or closing the school altogether. The new law:

  • allows funds to be used to implement a research-proven, whole school reform model;
  • enables state educational agencies, with the approval of the secretary of education, to establish an alternative state-determined school improvement strategy that may be used by local education agencies (LEAs); and
  • provides flexibility to LEAs eligible to receive services under the Rural Education Achievement program.

The bill also includes new language to allow states to make five-year awards under the SIG program, which “will allow schools additional time to plan, effectively implement and sustain their turnaround efforts.”

While the new act provides many positive changes for public education funding, the measure does not relieve the School Leadership Program, the only federal initiative dedicated to recruiting and training principals, from the harmful sequestration cuts. Before the Senate’s vote on the bill, AFSA President Diann Woodard sent a letter stating, “As the instructional leader of the school, the principal plays a unique and important role in implementing reform and creating a climate that fosters excellence in teaching and learning. Failing to restore the cuts to this program hampers progress on school reform, severely limiting states and districts from recruiting school leaders and providing sufficient leadership training.”