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Obama Budget Proposal Asks for $1 Billion for Teacher Preparation, Support

The teaching profession has been among the Obama administration's biggest focal points, and its fiscal 2016 budget request is no exception. It includes a $1 billion program to help states improve the quality of their teacher preparation and mentoring programs for new teachers. 

Here's a run-down of the most important teacher-related items in the budget. 

• A proposed $1 billion program. The request for a $1 billion mandatory-spending program, called Teaching for Tomorrow, would be aimed at the states to improve various parts of the teacher-quality continuum. It seems like a bit of a kitchen-sink program in that regard, but the Education Department spells out a few specifics it could presumably ask for in any funding notice. In the department's supremely detailed budget justifications, it says states could use the money to increase the entrance standards to teacher preparation, recruit diverse candidates, and lengthen the amount and improve the quality of student-teaching. For teachers in the classroom, states could improve mentoring and evaluation systems and help tie such systems to career ladders and pay. (There's even a mention of research on the District of Columbia's evaluation system that found that that program spurred teacher improvements.)

Hard to say what exactly is driving this new program, especially as it faces an uphill battle on Capitol Hill. But I do have a guess: The administration is soon going to be putting final touches on its (unpopular) proposed regulations for teacher education. Some sweetener in the form of grants might, as they say, help the medicine go down.  

• A makeover for the Teacher Incentive Fund. The budget would increase the Teacher Incentive Fund from $230 million to $350 million and give it (yet another) makeover, calling it the "Excellent Educators Grant" instead. The program would be a little bit more flexible than the current grant program, focusing on professional development and career ladders in addition to compensation reform. (In truth, the Obama adminstration has already emphasized such features through its competitive priorities.) The increase would likely be enough to fund a new round of five-year grants. 

 An expansion of the SEED grant set-aside.  This program is a competitive grant carved out of the $2.3 billion Improving Teacher Quality State Grants (which would be flat-funded). The grant supports nonprofits that provide teacher training and professional development, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and Teach For America. The administration has been pushing steadily to increase the amount of the set-aside, currently at 2.3 percent. This time, it wants 5 percent of the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants total.

The consolidation of other teacher programs. The $41 million Teacher Quality Partnership grants, the $16 million School Leadership program, and the $13 million Transition to Teaching program, would be folded into the new $350 million competitive Teacher and Principal Pathways Program. The Obama administration has proposed a version of this program as far back as its fiscal 2011 request, and says it would be more flexible than the prior programs. In general, it would focus on preparing teachers and principals for high-need schools and subjects, focus on retaining them, and would also require applicants back up their programs with research evidence.

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