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GAO: Most Districts Not Spending Stimulus on Reform


From guest blogger Dakarai I. Aarons:

The Obama Administration has said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would not only help drag the economy out of the doldrums, but also lead efforts to make the nation better equipped and more competitive in a global economy.

Or as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan so often puts it, the economic-stimulus funding should be used to save jobs and drive reform.

But a report by the Government Accountability Office, released this week to Congress, shows those hopes for big improvement initiatives in the area of education haven't yet materialized. That's particularly true when it comes to the $48.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the biggest single pot of education-related stimulus funding.

Instead of focusing on the kinds of efforts Duncan has been traversing the country to promote, school district officials said they were planning to use the money primarily to avert layoffs, bolster professional development, and make up for any budget holes caused by cuts in state education funding.

School leaders in Flint, Mich., for example, said they simply didn't have enough money to start thinking about reform:

"In Flint, Michigan, officials reported that SFSF funds will be used to cope with budget deficits rather than to advance programs, such as early childhood education or repairing public school facilities. According to the Superintendent of Flint Community Schools, the infrastructure in Flint is deteriorating, and no new school buildings have been built in over 30 years. Flint officials said they would like to use SFSF funds for renovating buildings and other programs, but the SFSF funds are needed to maintain current education programs."

Even if schools wanted to use the state fiscal stabilization money for reform, the report found, many district leaders said they found directions on how to do so unclear.

“Officials in many school districts we visited reported having inadequate guidance from their state on using SFSF funding, making reform efforts more difficult to pursue. School district officials in most states we visited reported they lacked adequate guidance from their state to plan and report on the use of SFSF funding.”

The GAO is expected to release these stimulus updates every 60 days or so, and we'll keep you posted on what they find.


What's incredible is you and the GAO are only figuring this out right now. The states' budget battles have been public and schools have gone on record as early as this past spring that stim money was barely going to fill holes created by the state budget. Didn't see anyone from your publication or the GAO reporting on it back then.

RE:The Improper Spending of Stimulus Money

Even with the huge education stimulus, teachers and substitutes with math and science backgrounds are shortchanged while unreasonable sums are misdirected to “at risk” programs. Everyone should get a fair share of the pie.

Those who advocate more business involvement in our schools are changing the atmosphere of one of education to a corporate mindset of hard driven efficiency. When technology takes over poetry, philosophy and science to the detriment of human civilization and America in particular, we all lose.

High-priced athletes and university sports programs have caused a skewing of education payroll. Teachers in social programs get huge bonuses for a few days work, while people who have dedicated their lives to the rigors of math and science are simply left out of the equation because of a missed point on a teacher test. One B-rated teacher in Calculus or Quantum Mechanics will yield more than an A-rated teacher in sociology.

We need to give more thought to how we spend stimulus money and just who gets it.

I just got back from walking my dog. News Flash. Most people in the park, even in this heat wave, were NOT biting dogs!

Regarding those districts who don't have enough money to even start thinking about reforms - how are they going to survive after ARRA runs out if they don't start to implement reforms now?

Its disconcerting to hear that so many school districts are hurting. But there is hope for those that have strong leadership. I know from personal experience as COO of a major urban district, board member and consultant to schools that most districts have major opportunities to improve their operational efficiency and financial condition. Most leaders and boards however focus on the obvious cuts because they don't have the data, benchmarks, tools, training and staff that are needed to achieve continuous improvement and cost savings in every area of the district. The financial solutions are out there - districts just need leaders who can see and go after the opportunities, boards that are supportive, and staff and union leaders that are willing to learn and change.

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