Transparency Watch: Stimulus App Secrecy Bugs Advocacy Groups
Several education advocacy organizations are riled up—as they probably should be—about a gap in the "transparency" of stimulus funds that I pointed out weeks ago. The U.S. Department of Education is refusing to make available the applications states submit for the state stabilization fund part of the stimulus package. The department only makes them public once they're approved. This does not permit the public to see beforehand what a state promised to do with its stimulus money, so that it can be compared with what a state ended up agreeing to do after any negotiations with the feds. What's more, you can't even see the original application after everything's been finalized.
The New Jersey-based Education Law Center, the New York-based Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Alliance for Quality Education, and the Georgia School Funding Association sent a letter to the department urging much better transparency regarding the stabilization fund. By not making the submitted applications public while they are still being considered, taxpayers, parents, and other members of the public can't review them or comment on them, the letter points out.
"The lack of basic procedures to ensure accountability, openness and public participation by both states and USDOE is deeply concerning," David G. Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center, told me in an email.
In fact, the New Jersey folks sent another letter today asking U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan & Co. to reject the state's application because it doesn't fully meet state school funding formula increases, especially in light of a new decision last week in the long-running Abbott case. Of course, I can't point you to New Jersey's stabilization fund application because the education department isn't making it public. This is the first time, that I'm aware of, that someone has petitioned the department to reject an application.
At least when it comes to these applications, one could question whether the education department is living up to those "unprecedented" levels of transparency that President Obama has touted.