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Short-Term Money, Long-Term Gains?

Schools and the Stimulus

From guest blogger Dakarai Aarons:

Urban superintendents and school board members who were in Washington this week for meetings of the Council of the Great City Schools got lots of face time with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who called the group his "home team." The former Chicago superintendent said he'd fight for whatever districts need to turn the stimulus money into lasting reform.

“You guys are the heart of my work,” he said during a lunchtime talk to the group on Sunday. Making drastic changes to chronically underperforming schools, building strong data systems, and rethinking teacher compensation are all core elements of driving change, he said.

The next day, federal officials gave a presentation on the stimulus money in which one slide called for districts to “use short-term funding to invest in reform that drives long-term results for students, schools and school systems.”

But how does a district hire people to help drive the reforms, the superintendents asked, while knowing money may not be available for that staff after stimulus funds dry up? They also peppered officials with concerns about how to account for money used in the state stabilization fund and how to track spending on interventions and initiatives that use multiple sources of funding. Stimulus funds must be tracked separately, and quarterly reports will ask for not only what was spent, but what the results were, including the number of jobs created or saved.

Duncan said his optimism is driven in part by the change he saw in Chicago after the district was awarded a grant from the federal Teacher Incentive Fund. The grant, which helped initiate performance pay for teachers, changed the conversation in the Windy City forever, he said.

The secretary said he thinks teachers in hard-to-staff areas, like math and science, should probably be paid more and that districts will have to do more to convince the country’s best young people to not only join the teaching profession, but stay for the long haul.

Duncan told school leaders he would be looking for creativity when the department turns later in the year toward dispensing discretionary money. “If you use it only to close staffing gaps, that might disqualify you,” he said.

And the secretary promised to use his bully pulpit to “embarrass” states and school districts if they aren’t working together to use the money wisely. “(The public) is going to watch every dollar,” he said.

Department officials recommend school leaders check www.ed.gov frequently over the next few weeks, as they prepare to release more answers to frequently asked questions. In the meantime, those who have questions about using stimulus dollars are encouraged to send an e-mail to [email protected]

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