Tuesday, February 17, 2009


SCHOOL FUNDING UPDATE from National Access Network, Teachers College, Columbia University

smf: ‘Adequate’ is never enough and ‘promotes’ is not ‘provides’. However…

17 February, 2009 - The $789 billion federal stimulus bill, which was passed by Congress last weekend, allocates roughly $100 billion for educational purposes. This figure is almost double the U.S. Department of Education’s $59.2 billion discretionary budget---and gives promise to education advocates that the Obama administration will live up to its commitment to reform and improve education in the United States. Shortly after the compromise was announced, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office issued a statement emphasizing the importance of “strategic investments in education,” stating that education is “one of the best ways to help America become more productive and competitive.”

The stimulus bill, technically entitled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, calls for $53.6 billion to be put toward state fiscal stabilization, of which $39.5 billion is allocated for education (k-12 and higher education), and the remaining $8.8 may be used to avert budget cuts in education, or for other basic state services, as determined by the Governors. The bill identifies funding stability and adherence to scheduled formula increases (presumably including those required by court orders or legislative responses to adequacy litigations) as priorities.

Specifically, to be eligible for stabilization funds, the state must maintain support for elementary, secondary, and public postsecondary education at least at the levels of fiscal year 2006, and the funding received must first be used to restore state aid to school district’s under the State’s primary elementary and secondary education funding formulae to the greater of the fiscal year 2008 or 2009 level in each of fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2011; where applicable, existing formula increases for elementary and secondary education for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 are to be implemented, allowing the funds to be used to permit the phase-in of previously enacted equity and adequacy adjustments. The strong action taken by the federal government to channel such a considerable sum of money into state education stabilization bolsters the legal argument that children’s constitutional right to an “adequacy” education includes both adequate and stable funding.

The Stabilization funding also is geared toward inducing states to address seriously a number of major issues that have arisen under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Thus, in its application for funding, the states must provide assurances that they will address four key areas: 1) achieving equity in teacher distribution; 2) establishing a longitudinal data system; 3) enhancing the quality of assessments relating to English language learners and students with disabilities and improving state academic content standards; and 4) ensuring compliance with corrective actions required for low-performing schools. (Details on existing compliance problems in each of these areas are discussed in Michael A. Rebell and Jessica R. Wolff, Moving Every Child Ahead: From NCLB Hype to Meaningful Educational Opportunity ( 2008)). For specific details on the amount of funding for which each state is eligible under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, see the recent report of The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In addition to providing stabilization money, the Act calls for a $13 billion increase in Title I funding, a $12.2 billion increase for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and $2.1 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start programs. The U.S. Secretary of Education may waive or modify existing maintenance of effort requirements. The Secretary will also have a $5 billion incentive grant fund to be awarded in 2010 to states that have made progress on initiatives like improving equitable distribution of teachers, establishing longitudinal data systems, and enhancing assessments for English language learners and students with disabilities.

Some Critics question the sustainability of programs after the 2-year infusion of federal stimulus money runs dry, and are concerned about the expanded federal role in education that will accompany the act. Others, however, see positive possibilities in the enhanced federal role. Jack Jennings, president of the Center of Education Policy was quoted in Education Week as stating that the Act “not only makes it more legitimate for the federal government to ask for accountability, it also [opens up] the questions of what should the feds be doing to help schools.”

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