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Stimulus gives schools $142B — with strings

Posted by gradefund on January 22, 2009

Stimulus gives schools $142B — with strings

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-01-19-school-stimulus_N.htm

The USA’s public schools stand to be the biggest winners in Congress’ $825 billion economic stimulus plan unveiled last week. Schools are scheduled to receive nearly $142 billion over the next two years — more than health care, energy or infrastructure projects — and the stimulus could bring school advocates closer than ever to a long-sought dream: full funding of the No Child Left Behind law and other huge federal programs.

But tucked into the text of the proposal’s 328 pages are a few surprises: If they want the money — and they certainly do — schools must spend at least a portion of it on a few of education advocates’ long-sought dreams. In particular, they must develop:

• High-quality educational tests.

• Ways to recruit and retain top teachers in hard-to-staff schools.

• Longitudinal data systems that let schools track long-term progress.

“The new administration does not want to lose a year on the progress because of the downturn in the economy,” says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education Committee. “So I think these are all things that are clearly doable.”

Testing, a key part of the No Child law, has gotten short shrift from most states, says Thomas Toch of Education Sector, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

“Existing state tests are not as good as they could be,” he says. “Putting new money into building stronger state assessments is what’s needed.”

But he and others say a big challenge will be to ensure that states don’t simply cut their own education budgets in anticipation of massive federal increases. “That’s going to be a challenge because the states are all hurting,” Toch says.

The plan also will help schools modernize and fix buildings. Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, an advocacy group, says she’s “pretty excited” about the requirement that states spend a portion of the stimulus cash attracting their best teachers to schools that serve low-income and minority students. “There’s nothing they could do with it that would be more important for high-poverty kids.”

But Charles Barone, a former congressional staffer who helped design the education reform law, says the plan doesn’t go far enough. He predicts states won’t do much to change how they hire teachers — and they’ll still get their money. “All they’re going to have to do is copy and paste what’s in their current plan to get this money,” says Barone, who now consults about education and writes a popular blog.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. “It seems to me you’d ask more from states and districts in terms of the kind of changes you’ve been talking about for years.”

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