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Changes for TIF, School Improvement Grants in Spending Bill

The Teacher Incentive Fund, which U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called one of his predecessor's greatest achievements, would get a makeover—and less money—under the giant spending bill under consideration in the U.S. Senate.

The TIF, as it's called, doles out grants to districts to create pay-for-performance programs. It would get $300 million under the Senate bill, which finances pretty much the entire federal government, including the Education Department. Last year, the TIF was financed at $400 million.

The administration had been hoping Congress would build on the program to create a bigger "Teacher and Leader Innovation" fund financed at $950 million. But that didn't happen, in part because reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act wasn't completed.

Perhaps more important, the bill includes new language on the TIF program. It says that 60 percent of teachers that would be affected by a new performance-pay plan must sign off on it in order for the program to get a grant. That's a big deal, because there was never such an explicit requirement for a certain level of buy-in before.

And the bill says that TIF grantees must create compensation systems that a) consider gain in student achievement, b) look at multiple classroom evaluations, and c) offer incentives for taking on leadership roles. The money could also be used to help create new teacher evaluation systems.

The School Improvement Grants were level-funded in the bill, at $546 million, but they also would see some changes. For instance, under the bill about 40 percent of the SIG grant money would go to high schools in many districts. That's something the administration asked for in its budget.

And schools would no longer be subject to the "Rule of 9," which is pretty technical, but important. It basically states that districts that have nine or more schools receiving SIG grants can't use the "transformational" model (which some see as the most flexible of the four SIG models) in more than half their schools.

That is only likely to matter in big-city districts with lots of schools getting SIG grants. Still, it's interesting because it shows that Congress is using spending bills to monkey around with the SIG grants, which have faced some congressional criticism.

These changes aren't a done deal. They may only go through if the Senate actually passes this omnibus spending bill, which is an open question. For more on the budget, take a look here.

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