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The Politics of Stimulus Reporting

Tomorrow, the public will get its first look at how states, school districts, and other recipients of federal stimulus funding have spent the first dollars from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act . The first quarterly spending reports will be posted on Recovery.gov sometime in the morning.

As you peruse the reports, would you email me or leave a comment if you see anything noteworthy? We'll be combing through them trying to figure out what it all means.

Already, news reports are calling into question just how accurate the reporting will be, particularly when it comes to estimating the number of jobs saved or created because of the stimulus package. This is particularly important for education, because the data already shows that teaching jobs are some of the biggest beneficiaries.

The White House tried to get out in front of the news, declaring earlier this month, before the reports were made public, that the stimulus saved 250,000 education jobs so far. But local media reports, including one in The Indianapolis Star, described how misleading those numbers could be. Yesterday, the Associated Press did an in-depth examination of the jobs reported in the first data that was released, from contractors who received federal stimulus money—and declared that the number of jobs saved was overstated by thousands. The White House, which clearly has a dog in this hunt, quickly fired back and slammed the story, providing a fact-check of its own.

Given how politically charged these jobs numbers are, the reports out tomorrow will be heavily scrutinized by all sides. Although the feds tried to give hard-and-fast rules on how to count the number of jobs saved or created, people in different states and agencies had to use their own interpretation in applying the rules. And so there's plenty of room for error.

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