Biden’s Vision for How to Strengthen the Teacher Workforce

Blog Post
June 8, 2021

In the last week of May, the Biden-Harris administration released its full FY2022 Budget Request, which brings the priorities of the administration into closer focus. Most notably, the federal agency with the largest requested budget increase by far is the US Department of Education, at 41 percent. While it will be up to Congress now to make budget decisions, this deep proposed investment adds $29.8 billion to public education and goes far beyond the President’s recent predecessors.

The administration’s request includes over $2 billion for attracting, preparing, supporting, and retaining a diverse, high-quality teaching and school leadership workforce. Here’s a deeper look at budget items that reflect new investment in preparing a pipeline of future educators and strengthening the existing educator workforce:

Preparing Future Educators

The budget allocates over $400 million for the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant program ($132 million plus $280 million under the American Families Plan). This includes $91.3 million in new grants to improve educator preparation programs (EPP) with a focus on teacher residency and Grow Your Own (GYO) educator programs. Investment in a better system of teacher preparation is critical to improving the quality and diversity of the educator workforce, but the proposed amount is just a small percentage of the initial American Families Plan pledge of nearly $3 billion for these programs, and could be improved with more specific guidance.

The current model of teacher preparation places newly minted teachers directly into leading their own classrooms after completing their bachelor’s degrees, sometimes with only a few weeks or months of school-based training. Replacing this with a model where every teacher engages in preparation that reflects the principles of high-quality teacher residencies is the right approach but will require far greater investment. Currently, the federal government invests at least $16 billion a year in multi-year medical residencies based on evidence that doing so is necessary to ensure an adequate quality of medical practice. Bank Street Education’s Prepared to Teach Initiative estimates that 100% of prospective teacher candidates could receive a one-year $20,000 clinical residency stipend for the much lower cost of $3.2 billion annually.

TQP grants for teacher residencies are currently focused at the graduate level, which means they are only accessible to individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree. The new funding stream should be used to support the development and implementation of a paid one-year residency at the undergraduate level in order to provide more teacher candidates with the opportunity to engage in a high-quality clinical experience. Residency programs and GYO programs, which aim to attract and prepare local community members with and without bachelor's degrees, need to be accessible to candidates at various stages of their education and career.

Further, under the current program framework, TQP funding cannot be used to cover tuition costs or other costs such as certification exams, which is a limitation given that many GYO program candidates are non-traditional students who often work in low-paying jobs and lack the resources to cover the cost of earning a degree. Strong GYO programs, for example, provide wraparound supports for candidates through the recruitment, preparation, and induction years, including scholarships and other financial aid to help reduce the financial barriers and help candidates graduate debt-free. The new grant program must be designed so that candidate financial support is an allowable expense.

Defining GYO would also strengthen the current authorizing language. High-quality GYO programs are partnerships between teacher preparation programs, local educational agencies, and community based organizations that a) recruit linguistically and culturally diverse candidates who are both reflective of and responsive to the needs of the local community (e.g., parents, paraeducators, uncertified school staff, high school students); b) provide wraparound supports for candidates through the recruitment, preparation, and induction years (e.g., cohort structure, scholarships, licensure test preparation, assistance navigating college admissions process, etc.); c) offer paid work-based experience under the guidance of an effective mentor teacher that aligns with educator preparation coursework; and d) provide pathways for candidates to earn required teaching credentials and certification at various stages of their careers.

The President’s budget proposes an additional $55 million in FY22 for TEACH grants, which are designed to provide incentives for postsecondary students to teach in in-demand fields and high-need schools.This investment would double the available federal TEACH Grant aid from $4,000 to $8,000 per year for college juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Helping more students pay to finish their teaching degrees, especially given teacher shortages, is a good idea but best achieved through different means and/or with some important changes to the TEACH Grant program.

The federal government operates the TEACH Grant program as a loan program with 100 percent forgiveness upon completion of a student’s service requirement (four years teaching in a high-need field in a high-need school).There have been many issues with the TEACH Grant program historically, including that many TEACH recipients don’t complete their teaching certificate for reasons that have nothing to do with the cost of preparation, and among those that do complete, many don’t end up teaching in eligible high-need schools, or even at all. As such, it is unlikely that this proposal will substantially help address teacher shortages, and Congress should consider other alternatives for this funding, including shifting this funding toward providing a paid full year residency for every teacher candidate.

Should Congress pursue a boost to TEACH grants, then the Administration’s proposal should modify the program so that students receive a lower grant amount in their early undergraduate years (e.g. $2,000 in their first year), when many students are still figuring out their major/career choice, and then double the amount in later years. This approach reduces potential harm, by limiting the amount of debt students will have to repay if they do not end up continuing to pursue a degree in education, while rewarding those that are most likely to continue into teaching and fulfill the TEACH grant requirements.

The budget includes new funding for the Augustus F. Hawkins Centers of Excellence, including $20 million in discretionary funding and $40 million in mandatory funding via the American Families Plan. Named for the first Black member to represent California in the U.S. Congress, the Centers are intended to improve educator preparation programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Despite awarding just 11% of the bachelor’s degrees in education nationwide, MSIs produce more than 50% of the bachelor’s degrees earned in education by Hispanic, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students and 40% of the degrees in education earned by African Americans. In particular, HSIs prepare 90% of Hispanic teachers, and constitute a vital pipeline to promote diversity among our nation's teachers, including linguistic diversity. If Congress appropriates this request, it will be the first time the Hawkins program has been funded since its establishment in 2008.

The Hawkins funding, by providing extensive clinical experience and financial aid to prospective teachers, could help to eliminate a key barrier to a diverse educator workforce as students of color are more heavily impacted by the high cost of college and student loan debt. It would be improved by adding competitive preference to IHEs that incorporate the development and implementation of a high-quality teacher residency program. Receipt of funding should also be predicated on the collection and reporting of key input and outcome metrics including, pre-to-post quantity/quality of clinical experience, program completion, licensure attainment (including first time and overall licensure exam pass rates), post-completion employment in PreK-12 schools, and ongoing retention of the candidates prepared by these institutions at the educator preparation program level.

In addition, $19.9 million in funding from the Indian Education Program would be available for Institutes of Higher Education and other entities to prepare Native American students to become teachers and school administrators in communities with high concentrations of Native American students. These dollars would support not only the recruitment of Indian students into teacher preparation but also tuition support and living expenses for the students. This GYO approach has been used successfully in Nebraska, and other states, to help boost the number of Indian teachers and provide Indian students with access to teachers who share their culture and language.

Strengthening the Current Educator Workforce

The budget includes $1.6 billion for Answer the Call, a program which would help over 100,000 current educators attain additional certifications in high-need areas such as special education, bilingual education, career and technical education (CTE) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This investment is a part of the President’s larger American Families Plan proposal of $9 billion over ten years to address teacher shortages, improve training and supports, and improve teacher diversity.

To fully leverage these efforts, it would be wise to incentivize teacher preparation programs to better align their candidates’ certifications with projected areas of local PreK-12 public school demand, and to provide teachers with a direct incentive to move from a general education/less in-demand area to one with significant teacher shortages. Special education, however, is an area where demand for teachers tends to be much greater than supply, and simply training more teachers is unlikely to correct this. Special education teachers’ jobs are typically more complex and demanding, both due to the myriad needs of students with Individualized Education Plans and 504 plans, as well as the time investment necessary to develop, implement, and report progress on these legally-required plans. Extra training and credentials will not be enough to attract and retain special education teachers; debt-free preparation, higher salaries and other financial incentives for special education teachers, particularly in high-need schools, and sufficient co-teaching, paraeducator, and leadership support for current special education teachers are equally important to develop and sustain a high quality workforce of special education teachers.

The budget also proposes $200 million in mandatory funds over four years for a new Expanding Opportunities for Teacher Leadership and Development program to support opportunities for experienced and effective teachers to advance in their careers (and be compensated for additional responsibilities) while remaining in the classroom in order to extend their impact on their school community. Teachers looking for enhanced responsibility and recognition of their expertise will no longer have to leave teaching to attain these goals, which should reduce attrition of more experienced and effective educators. Having more experienced, effective educators in schools that can provide instructional support to both novice and experienced teachers should result in improved teacher effectiveness throughout the school. It will also save costs in the long run, due to improved school culture, reduced educator attrition, and diminished need to hire “outside experts” for professional learning. And, of course the most important long-term value will be to the students themselves, who are more likely to learn and thrive in schools with educators that can holistically support them to fulfill their potential. To fully reap the benefits of such efforts, the program should encourage career advancement opportunities to be offered to teachers based on their demonstration of the specific required competencies for a given role, without requiring completion of an official degree or certification program, or incurring debt from an institution of higher education.

The President’s budget also includes $30 million in new competitive grant funding to revive the School Leader Recruitment and Support program (last funded in 2017). Funds would support competitive grants for partnerships between EPPs and state and/or local education entities to provide high-quality professional development for current and aspiring principals and other school leaders. This competition should extend preference to any partnership that incorporates methods to reliably and validly demonstrate the specific skills and practices being targeted, such as through competency-based micro-credentials. In addition, as with any competitive grant intended to unearth and promote new best practices, the Biden administration should require that grantees publicly report on their efforts and outcomes.

The President’s education budget lays the foundation for the kind of deep and sustained investment in our nation’s educator workforce we need for our public school system. In addition to requests for sustained funding for existing programs, the new investments it proposes get us closer to a system that attracts, supports, and retains a diverse, high-quality educator workforce. Ultimately, students receive the highest benefit when we ensure that all of their needs are met by teachers, leaders, and other school staff. Now Congress must work to meet the proposed funding levels so that students have the educational opportunities they need and deserve.

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Related Topics
Federal Education Legislation Teachers The President's Budget Federal Education Budget Teachers and Leaders