A new report out today from Bellwether Education Partners looks at the impact of stimulus funds on education reform. The report, by myself, Anand Vaishnav, Bill Porter, and Andrew Rotherham, finds that a combination of mixed messages and unclear guidance from state and national leaders, state and local funding cuts, and inertia and existing processes meant that many districts used stimulus funds simply to maintain the status quo rather than drive significant reforms. We also find, though, that some districts were able to use ARRA funds to make significant reforms, thanks to a combination of strong local leadership and access to outside capacity and technical assistance. And in contrast the the bulk of ARRA funds distributed by funding formulas, the relatively small percentage of funding allocated to competitive Race to the Top program did in fact drive significant reform activity at the state level.
These findings, while discouraging to some who hoped ARRA would drive greater reforms, also point the way towards smarter policy approaches in the future--particularly how to be smarter about using federal funds to drive state- and local-level reform.
Those implications are particularly important because the budget pressures that states and local districts currently face aren't going anywhere soon. Rather, these pressures are both greater than initially expected and represent a long-term structural problem, rather than a temporary shortfall as a result of the Great Recession--and this is a reality that federal, state, and local policymakers must acknowledge and address in order to avoid serious negative impacts on schools and children.
Check out the whole report on the Bellwether Education Partners website, here.