Today, the House Committee on Appropriations approved its Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations legislation, which proposes to increase the U.S. Department of Education’s budget by $716 million to $73.5 billion.
For a typical appropriations process, the House budget proposal includes many provisions worth celebrating. Yet we know that our schools will require significantly greater federal support as they prepare to re-open this fall amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when the importance of our schools — for individual students and families, and for society as a whole — has never been greater, we acknowledge that the proposed budget sends a message that investing in our education system must be a top national priority.
In particular, we are glad to see additional funding included for the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants (Title II-A) program and the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program. The Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program and Teacher and School Leader Incentive (TSL) program would also be funded under the House proposal.
We are also pleased to see report language highlighting the important role principals and other school leaders play in creating school environments in which students and teachers thrive.
“The Committee notes the importance of principals and other school leaders in bringing about improvements in student achievement and other outcomes,” the report states. “Research shows there are virtually no documented instances of low-performing schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.”
The report goes on to encourage the Department to prioritize providing states and districts with technical assistance on strengthening leadership in order to improve schools identified for improvement under Title I, noting that leadership investments are an evidence-based strategy for improving low-performing schools. We are prepared to work with the Department as it implements this congressional directive.
Further, the report showcases the Committee’s support of efforts to prioritize school leadership investments through Title II-A.
“Research has consistently demonstrated that school leadership is second only to classroom instruction as an influence on student learning,” the report highlights, “and 97 percent of teachers say that the principal is responsible for determining if a school can attract and retain great teachers.”
The report goes on to direct the Department to encourage states, through guidance or technical assistance, to take advantage of the opportunity to use three percent of their Title II dollars to invest in school leadership to maximize the effectiveness of their school improvement strategies.
As Congress works through the FY21 appropriations process, we encourage congressional leaders to reiterate the importance of school leadership by providing robust funding for programs that support evidence-based leadership strategies and by retaining school leadership language in any future reports. We especially urge Congress to consider funding the School Leader Recruitment and Support Program (SLRSP), the only federal program specifically focused on investing in evidence-based, locally-driven strategies to strengthen leadership in high-need schools.
Further, as Congress works to provide additional emergency funding for schools to prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the coming year, we urge congressional leaders to consider the important role principals and other school leaders play in providing their school communities with the clarity, guidance, and comfort they need as they prepare for a safe, productive return to learning this fall. And we call on congressional leaders to take bold action to provide schools with the substantial investments they will need to support students and communities in the coming year and beyond.