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The Capitol, Washington, D.C.
The Capitol, Washington, D.C.

From the mountains of Tennessee to the West Side of Chicago, teachers represent our best chance of achieving the goal we have for every child in this country to graduate from high school.

We increase our chances of reaching this goal if our teachers receive the support and professional development they need. As the only federal money focused on teacher improvement and growth, Title II funding supports the development of our educators.

But Title II is on the chopping block, thanks to a bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives to fund the federal government through September 2018. In addition to eliminating over $2 billion in federal funding for teacher development, this bill cuts overall education funding by $2.4 billion.

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As the heads of state education systems in Tennessee and Illinois, we know that every child deserves a strong teacher. That’s why we are urging Congress to maintain critical Title II funding in the federal funding bills that it passes this year.

The largest urban school district in Illinois, the City of Chicago School District #299 uses federal funds to provide mentoring and coaching for aspiring principals and to coach and mentor teachers in high-need subject areas or those committed to work in high-need schools in Chicago.

Illinois faces challenges in retaining great teachers in our classrooms. Many states share this challenge. We have worked to provide new teachers in Illinois with additional support and mentorships as they start their careers to ensure they are successful. The support ranges from help creating and aligning instructional materials or assessment resources to providing social and emotional learning opportunities.

Illinois also plans funding for local school districts to partner with higher-education institutions and find innovative ways to improve teacher-preparation programs.

In Tennessee, rural and remote communities don’t have a large pool of teacher candidates to choose from each year. These districts use federal dollars to support teacher-leaders who can coach and develop local talent. The Tennessee Rural Education Association reports that 49 percent of school districts in Tennessee are located in rural communities. Ninety-seven of the state’s 146 districts have fewer than 5,000 students. At the state level, we support districts to address equity and ensure students’ access to highly effective teachers — all of which helps strengthen and expand the teacher pipeline for these rural communities.

”We are optimistic that Congress will work to fund the government before the deadline, and ask that they also restore this critical funding to support educators.”

We plan to use Title II funding to increase Tennessee’s focus on the outcomes of our teacher-preparation programs and identify their areas of strength as well as areas that need improvement. We also will invest in producing great school leaders who can support teachers and meet the unique needs of all children. In Tennessee, these funds also support non-public schools. (Ninety-eight percent of participating non-public schools in the state use Title II, Part A, affecting more than 42,000 students.)

We run large education agencies and know how important it is to spend our tax dollars wisely. We understand these funds must be administered effectively, efficiently and in the best interest of students. That’s why we are taking the opportunity under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to build on these programs to further support teachers and improve education for all students.

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We know our colleagues across the country are planning similar efforts to transform how they are investing Title II funding to better support students. ESSA gives states flexibility to design the systems that best meet the needs of their students, and states have worked closely with stakeholders at the state and local levels to create plans to do just that. Why hobble our progress before we even start by axing the only federal funds focused on teacher improvement and growth?

On September 7, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a bill that would provide a little over $2 billion in funding for Title II. We applaud the Senate Appropriation Committee’s action to restore this funding, and we urge Congress to adopt this Senate committee’s approach to Title II to ensure all students receive high-quality instruction from well-trained teachers. Congress has until January 19 to act to keep the federal government open or else face a shutdown. We are optimistic that Congress will work to fund the government before the deadline, and ask that they also restore this critical funding to support educators.

Eliminating this funding is not the way to cut costs in the federal budget, and the impact would reverberate beyond public schools. It will be felt across entire communities.

Let’s work together to ensure every state and every local district spends these funds in accordance with the spirit of what Congress intended — to ensure every student succeeds. We cannot accomplish this if we don’t have the resources necessary to support our educators.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter.

Candice McQueen is Tennessee’s commissioner of education.

Tony Smith is Illinois’ superintendent of education.

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