Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature have agreed to allocate a half billion dollars for a range of programs to enhance “teacher effectiveness” in California, the largest amount to be dedicated for that purpose in years.
The funds, which will be set aside as a block grant, will flow to each of California’s nearly 1,000 districts based on the number of credentialed teachers and school administrators they have on their payrolls. Districts can spend the funds at any time over the next three years.
Ratified by the Legislature on Friday, the funds represent a massive increase over the $10 million that Brown had included in his proposed 2015-16 budget in January to address the quality of teacher preparation programs. The fact that lawmakers were able to agree less than six months later to send 50 times that amount directly to school districts underscored the high priority the state is placing on teacher preparation and effectiveness.
The funds will come at a time when California’s nearly 300,000 teachers, along with tens of thousands of principals and other administrators, are grappling with how to implement the Common Core State Standards, the new set of academic standards in math and English language arts, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards.
“It is a very big deal,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor of education who also is chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “It is really a first step towards rebuilding the professional development infrastructure in the state that evaporated during the years of budget cuts.”
The notion of a block grant “dedicated to professional learning…to meet local needs” was first floated in the influential “Greatness by Design” report issued in September 2012 by the Task Force on Educator Excellence established by State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson. The task force was co-chaired by Darling-Hammond and Long Beach Unified Superintendent Chris Steinhauser.
The new funds also reinforce the emphasis Brown and the Legislature have placed on creating a culture of support for teachers in California. That represents a marked a departure from the regimen of sanctions imposed by the No Child Left Behind law over the last 15 years on schools and districts that failed to improve student test scores to the levels specified by the law.
“This $500 million investment helps continue the efforts underway in schools and districts to support teachers and administrators,” said Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education and a close ally of Brown since his first term as governor in the 1970s. Kirst said new funds were especially needed because of the “monumental shifts in classroom instruction” demanded by the new standards.
“The big challenge in California’s implementation of the Common Core is to provide teachers with professional development and support they need to implement the new standards,” said David Plank, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE, a joint UC, USC and Stanford initiative. “This is a significant down payment on that obligation.”
Before the recession, California spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the form of “categorical” funds on a range of programs to support new teachers – most notably the Beginning Teachers Assessment and Support program (BTSA) – as well as to help teachers in need of improvement (Peer Assistance and Review, or PAR). School districts had to spend these funds for the purposes prescribed by the state.
But beginning in 2008-09, the state reduced the total amount spent on those “categorical” programs, and then eliminated dedicated funding for them in order to give districts more flexibility over their budgets. One unexpected outcome was that professional development and support programs for teachers were among the first to be cut back by districts exercising their newly acquired flexibility.
The funds earmarked for teacher effectiveness in the coming year are intended to help districts upgrade the professional development they offer to teachers not only in math, English language arts and science, but also in other subject areas in which the state adopts academic standards. They are also intended to help new teachers get the most out of the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program, as well as the Peer Assistance and Review program. The funds must also be spent on training teachers to be mentors or coaches to other teachers.
Some $10 million also will go to California’s K-12 High Speed Network to more effectively provide professional development programs to districts, and to provide technical assistance to districts in how to manage their connections to the network.
“I hope it sends a message to teacher organizations that the state is very committed to being sure that people who are qualified have access to the profession, that if you choose the profession, we will help you with various teacher induction programs, that we will create a career ladder, and for those teachers who are struggling we will either help you or suggest you move on” said Senator Carol Liu, D-Glendale, chairperson of the Senate Education Committee.
Not surprisingly, the new funds were welcomed by the California Teachers Association, the union representing most teachers in the state. “This is obviously good news,” said CTA spokesman Mike Myslinski. “It is pretty clear that teacher quality begins with adequately preparing and supporting beginning teachers.”
Pia Wong, chair of the Teaching Credentials Department at Sacramento State University, expressed concerns that all the funds will go to districts, excluding teacher education programs charged with preparing a new generation of teachers. She also hoped that districts would use the state’s K-12 High Speed Network effectively “so that promising local practices can be shared statewide so no one is reinventing the wheel.”
The agreement to allocate $500 million was the result of successful negotiations between the governor’s office and the Legislative leadership – Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Senate President Pro-Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles – along with the respective chairs of the education committees in the Assembly and the Senate, Sen. Liu and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach.
Lawmakers in the Assembly had argued for ongoing annual funding of $190 million for teacher support and improvement programs, while those in the state Senate were promoting a one-time $800 million block grant along the lines of the $500 million block grant that was eventually agreed on.
The funds were carved out of the $3.5 billion in discretionary dollars generated by the state’s surging economy. These funds were supposed to pay back districts for a range of unfunded mandates it had imposed on districts in recent years.
As for how negotiations went with the governor’s office, “it was not a big fight,” said Rick Simpson, Atkins’ deputy chief of staff. “We all thought it was an important investment.”