Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity to Invest in Teachers
“Never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Rahm Emanuel, Former Mayor of Chicago
In the past year, our nation’s educational system faced an epic crisis brought about by the pandemic, leaving education leaders wondering when relief would be in sight. That relief arrived on March 11, 2021, when the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) was passed by Congress, allocating approximately $130 billion for the K-12 education system and nearly $40 billion for the higher education system. As the Biden-Harris administration launches into action with the massive rollout of unprecedented education funding, school districts now have the financial resources and the opportunity to collaborate with educator preparation programs (EPPs) to tackle a long-standing crisis—the shortage of professionally qualified educators.
Within the K-12 funding is where the authority and the opportunity exists for districts to partner with EPPs to ensure a pipeline of fully prepared educators. The $130 billion funds will be distributed to the states and then allocated to school districts using the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title 1 formula. There are numerous set asides for this funding that are dedicated to the immediate rescue efforts needed to get school doors open, including but not limited to, addressing safety measures and learning loss brought about by the pandemic. After the set asides are taken away, there is $87 billion of the $130 billion that school districts will have on the table, and they will be the decision makers on how to spend the funding. The law states this money may be spent for any authorized activity under a number of current laws including ESSA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In both acts, the law states that funding may be used to prepare new educators.
The money is available through, and must be obligated by, September 2024. This provides districts with the ability to obligate funds for up to three school years to partner with schools and colleges of education to prepare future teachers to staff their schools. While school districts undoubtedly have urgent pandemic-related needs to address related to health and safety, there are sufficient funds to begin to address the long-term challenge of ensuring a well-prepared teacher pipeline, an investment that will keep paying off well into the future. With a full complement of well-prepared professionals, districts can move away from reliance on unprepared long-term substitutes and others without full credentials, thus ensuring better outcomes for students and a more stable workforce.
If we are going to successfully address the tremendous education needs brought about by the pandemic, we need fully prepared and qualified personnel across the spectrum. The pandemic has not only taken an academic toll, but it has also taken a social, emotional, and mental health toll on students as well. There are a vast number of students who have become disconnected from school, and finding these students, assessing them, and providing them with the mental health support they need to get back in the saddle is a substantial task. The shortage of special educators, counselors, psychologists, and social workers in our schools can be addressed under Part D of IDEA Personnel Preparation, which provides the authority to prepare a pipeline of these vital professionals.
An Urgent Call to Action
Now is the time for EPPs—particularly those with programs funded under the Higher Education Act’s Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program where there is a required partnership with high need schools—to connect with their school district partners and leaders who are decision makers. Inform districts of the opportunity they have to invest a portion of their ARP funding to strengthen the profession of teaching, and make them aware of the EPP’s willingness to work with them to put together a partnership that reaches their current and future needs. Strong relationships between schools of education and districts have always played a vital role in the education ecosystem. It is time to reinforce those relationships by investing in our teacher workforce and the future of our nation’s students.
Jane West, Ph.D., is an education policy consultant for AACTE.