« St. Paul District At Odds With State Over Superintendent Credentials | Main | First New School Since Katrina Opens in New Orleans »

Innovation, Reform With Stimulus Dollars a Challenge, Superintendents Say

| 4 Comments

Schools and the Stimulus

Using stimulus dollars for innovative reform while also trying to avoid layoffs seems more pipe dream than reality, according to a study released today by the American Association of School Administrators.

In the survey, 67 percent of superintendents said the share of the $100 billion slated for education that they have received so far had primarily gone to backfill state and local budget cuts, or represented a marginal increase in their budgets.

Not only did administrators say that the inflexibility of requirements (districts have to follow federal regulations in spending) have hampered their ability to use the money in ways they think would best benefit their districts, but 53 percent said they were unable to avoid cutting core subjects and special education teaching positions, even using stimulus dollars.

And while saving jobs is a major goal of the economic-stimulus law, superintendents said they were focusing more dollars on other one-time costs in order to avoid the "funding cliff" when the money runs out in two years. Professional development was the top use for Title 1 and special education funds, followed by saving jobs and purchasing classroom technology.

A total of 160 administrators from 37 states completed the 16-question survey. Sixty-three percent described their districts as rural, 28 percent as suburban, and nine percent as urban, AASA said.

School districts and states must account for stimulus spending separately from other sources, and the school leaders say this adds to the amount of time that has to be spent on things other than innovation and reform.

A report earlier this summer by the Government Accountability Office had similar findings, especially when it came to the spending of the state fiscal stabilization funds. Most of that money went to save jobs.

4 Comments

Given the mandate for maximizing employment, it's not surprising that there's little left for innovation. What I don't understand are the mandates themselves. There are basically two: retain employees and boost achievement, neither of which meets the reality test when looking down the road just a couple years at the obvious funding cliff.

Why wasn't the focus instead on finding operational efficiencies and cost reductions? Why were they not allowed to use the money to streamline operations and shed staff so they'd be ready when budgets inevitably drop 10-20-30% in 2011?

Many of the teachers we're retaining today (and spending stimulus money to train) will be gone in a couple of years because we failed to prepare for the new funding reality. Why couldn't we have used that money to change the status quo, run more efficiently, and keep more of those teachers after the budgets drop thanks to a lower cost structure?

Stimulus money represents, among other things, 1) debt that will hurt in the future, 2) increases in the money supply that robs the many of purchasing power, and 3) a whole host of negative opportunity costs. Choosing to throw at school systems mega resources, means that are now denied to the vast majority of the public, will only serve the function of solidifying power in Mordor (also known as Washington D.C.).

The expectation of achievement does not take into account structural disincentives. Schools are loci of privilege, having secured funds forcibly- via taxation in other words. Unions aid and abet this crime and, like all unions, exploit their ability to provide less for more. Market players that try to do the same see their customers walk. In schools, there are no customers.

Granted, many private entities have one foot in the market and one on the government payroll. Goldman Sachs, a politically connected bank that has received billions in bailout funding; General Motors, the failed (but politically successful) Leviathan taken over by the government; and thousands of military contractors, are examples of what should be identified as a corporatist eclipsing of American life. I am not just bashing schools-in other words!

Confounding the situation is that many public school parents receive more than they put into the system and either welcome the welfare or accept it as their only option without understanding how government schools crowd out other possibilities.

A further irony is that the organization holding out the carrot and stick, the USDOE, also has the same inherent negative structural incentives- and on an even greater scale.

This whole debacle is exacerbated by attempts at employment stabilization. Sure, maybe some districts do not lay-off so many people. But this comes at the expense of somebody else outside the privileged core, far down the totem pole of political power. New job creation is stifled as well.

Supporters of government schools will say that they need the resources more than the millions of other people because the children are the priority. Nonsense. Collective bargaining and the active suppression of homeschooling show where a school's interests lie. This is not to judge individuals- it is the results of the structure that I am describing.

But there is an economic reason that trumps all others.

Government run institutions do not have the means to think economically to the degree they operate outside the sphere of profit and loss (large corporations can fall victim too). This is why entrepreneurship is denied to schools; it isn't just that school planners do not risk their own capital. School managers cannot know if they are being efficient in context of society. And without profit and loss, society cannot measure whether the level and nature of capital allocations to these government institutions has been a good idea.

Aprioristically, knowing there is no profit and loss system, the entire endeavor of government schooling should be understood to be a bad idea!

That anyone believes the technocratic rationalization emanating from DC is proof positive of a kind of 'success' in public education. At almost all times and places, government schooling has been instituted to create conformity and submission.

Bureaucrats, by definition, exploit power and seek to control! But that is different from getting results beneficial from 1) a student's point of view, 2) an efficiency angle, 3) accountability and 4) acting within a reasonable context of all other competing needs in society. Only the market provides the right structural response to reality.

The only way out of this mess is to retract Federal involvement in schooling altogether and evolve to a market system.

HOW FINANCIAL EDUCATION CAN/WILL IMPROVE THE ‘WELFARE’ OF THE ECONOMY

With so much focus on the recession and its effect on businesses, fiscal markets and the average family who once had employment, a home and enough material wants to fill several garages, there appears a distinct lack of consideration for the people who were already struggling to survive on low incomes long before these tough economic times. The working poor, for example, who’s minimum hourly wage hasn’t kept up with inflation; or those families reliant on TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families), who, unlike the old ‘welfare’ hand-out, must eek out an existence for as long as the limited TANF is provided.

Unfortunately the ‘needy’ aren’t given as much consideration when it comes to the recovery of an economy, which is no surprise given poverty is generally viewed as a social problem, one that has resulted from individuals’ personal deficits and/or lack of responsibilities, rather than as a result of economic influences.
Regrettably though, this widespread misconception has exacerbated decades of preconceived ideas stereotyping our less fortunate, allotting them to a status of much less value, in fact relative non-inclusion on matters like the state of the economy.

What is not considered, is the ‘razors edge’ that each and everyone of us is balanced on when it comes to financial wellbeing, even those perceived to be affluent.
At some stage in anyone’s life the chances of experiencing at least one of the following (if not more), is extremely high. These are significant causal factors into the progression of hardship.

1. A marriage/family breakdown
2. Loss of employment
3. Developing a mental illness (nervous breakdown, schizophrenia, depression etc)
4. Financial mismanagement by you &/or other parties
5. Bankruptcy
6. Substance abuse
7. Domestic violence
8. Repossession
9. Physical and/or sexual abuse
10. Integration from a culturally or linguistically diverse background
11. Intellectual disability
12. Death of an income earner.

While we may not be in this particular situation right now, becoming impoverished is a reality that can occur unexpectedly, to anyone, at anytime during their lives.

In fact, based on recent events, it would appear most of us are poorly equipped with the fundamentals of financial management. We’ve seen that even the savviest financial gurus of the world can be just as vulnerable and inadequate in knowledge in regards to the complexities of the market, as those of us who, through no fault of our own, were uneducated on the basic knowledge of money management or for that matter, building wealth. I say no fault of our own, because if you’re not exposed to these fundamental life skills in a home environment or at school, where do you learn them?

Over the last 40 years, western world Governments have campaigned heavily on the back of reducing poverty, pledging to “end welfare as we know it”, or in the case of Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, to “Have no Australian child live in poverty by 1990”. In 2009, 11.6 per cent of Australians under the age of 18, are estimated to be living in poverty (www.theage.com.au)
In the US, welfare reforms in the 1960’s were known as ‘War on Poverty’, followed by congress passing one ambiguous reform to another in the 1970’s and 80’s. The outcome and reduced numbers for those living below the poverty line, right through to the Clinton administration, remained insignificant. Now, Americans work harder and longer with declining wages, less pension benefits, less health care and rising poverty due to a system that puts a cap on the limit of assistance they can receive.

The fact is there is always going to be a proportionate number of people living in poverty unless a radical change is imposed on the way we perceive those less fortunate and unless we start to recognize that poverty, particularly generational, is an economic issue we must collectively work at overcoming.
Thus far, welfare reforms have focused mainly on generating more jobs, creating more housing, promoting responsible parenting, offering tax incentives (earned income tax credit) or simply by providing ‘lip service’, like ‘fostering new partnerships with the private sectors. These are all passed tense strategies. In all my years of researching welfare and the reforms utilized to combat poverty, I am yet to see a line of attack that includes preventative measures or ‘early intervention’ strategies. It’s like handing a set of skies to someone who has never skied, setting them atop a mountain and telling them to ski to the bottom. They may have the equipment, but without lessons or know-how, they’re not likely to succeed without collateral damage.

Financial education, I believe, is the key, as a ‘core’ mainstream subject, in all schools, and preferably in the formative years. Education on the basic fundamentals of balancing amounts, understanding interest rates, must knows when signing a contract, how to minimize debt, grow investment, cover health insurance, build income streams and manage portfolios are but a few, but the list goes on. Surely, now, more than ever, during the toughest of economic times, we must take stock of this situation, recognize the financial blunders we have caused, and responsibly address our moral obligation to ensure our future generations are ‘tooled’ up with the necessary knowledge and understanding of monetary matters, to ensure their financial well being is controlled, secure, and covers the basic necessities of theirs and their children’s lives.
It is financial education which has the capacity to not only reduce generational poverty, but to also create long term sustainability to individuals and the economy.

www.strategicpublishing.com/GoodbyeWelfare.html


Tracey,

Your post, although loaded with content, has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Kinda wasteful really.

Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog

Advertisement

Most Viewed on Education Week

Categories

Archives

Recent Comments

  • Fallon: Tracey, Your post, although loaded with content, has nothing to read more
  • Tracy Lee Harvey: HOW FINANCIAL EDUCATION CAN/WILL IMPROVE THE ‘WELFARE’ OF THE ECONOMY read more
  • Fallon: Stimulus money represents, among other things, 1) debt that will read more
  • Brett: Given the mandate for maximizing employment, it's not surprising that read more