Earlier this month, in an appearance at Doswell Brooks Elementary School in Capitol Heights, Maryland, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the availability of $44 billion to states and schools—the first round of funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Of the $44 billion, $11.4 billion went out to states on April 1 through the Title I, IDEA, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Independent Living programs. The remaining $32.6 billion falls under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) and will help states balance their budgets and avoid reductions in education and other essential public services.
“Given our economic circumstances, it’s critical that money go out quickly but it’s even more important that it be spent wisely,” Duncan said. “The first step toward real and lasting reform that will ensure our students’ competitiveness begins with absolute transparency and accountability in how we invest our dollars, educate our children, evaluate our teachers, and measure our success. We must be much more open and honest about what works in the classroom and what doesn’t.”
Of the $32.6 billion in SFSF funds, $26.6 billion is dedicated to ensuring that local school districts and public institutions of higher education have the resources to prevent cuts to education funding and retain teachers and professors, while $6 billion can go toward education, public safety, or other government services.
Before a state can receive these funds, it must first submit an application to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) providing assurances that it is committed to advancing education reform in the four specific areas mentioned in the ARRA. Secretary Duncan highlighted these areas in a letter to the nation’s governors:
- Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and ensuring that all schools have highly qualified teachers.
- Making progress toward college- and career-ready standards and rigorous assessments that will improve both teaching and learning.
- Improving achievement in low-performing schools by providing intensive support and effective interventions in schools that need them the most.
- Gathering information to improve student learning, teacher performance, and college- and career-readiness through enhanced data systems that track progress.
“Taken together, these four commitments will help ensure outstanding teachers in America’s schools, arm educators with the tools and data needed to determine what does and doesn’t work in our nation’s classrooms, align curricula and assessments with rigorous standards that prepare young people for college and careers, and transform our lowest-performing schools,” Duncan wrote in the letter.
In addition, states must provide baseline data that demonstrates its status in each of the four education reform areas and include a description of how it intends to use its allocation. If ED receives an approvable application, it will—within two weeks—provide the state with 67 percent of its allocation under the SFSF.
Each state will receive the remaining portion of its SFSF, which, in total, includes $13.1 billion for education and $2.9 for education, public safety, or other government services, later in the year and after ED approves each state’s plan for addressing the four education reform objectives. To receive this second round of funding, a state’s plan must describe how it is implementing the data-collecting and reporting requirements under ARRA and how the SFSF and other funding will be used to improve teaching and learning.
A third round of funding, the $5 billion “Race to the Top” fund, will be awarded to states that are most aggressively pursuing reforms via competitive grants. In order to ensure that the first two rounds of funding are driving improvements in the classroom, ED will award grants to states based on how well they are using the first round of stabilization and Title I funds to advance education reforms. Duncan says that the Race to the Top funds will be given as an incentive to states that are “fundamentally willing to challenge the status quo.”
A second round of Title I and IDEA funds will be available later in the year. In addition, ED will be providing information about Title I School Improvement grants, for which $3 billion will be available beginning fall 2009.
As reported in the New York Times, Duncan said that the assurances and the Race to the Top fund will “[lay] the foundation for where we want to go” with the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. “This will help us to get states lining up behind this agenda,” he said.
ED made it clear that the education funding included in ARRA is a “historic infusion of funds that is expected to be temporary.” It has cautioned that funds should be invested “thoughtfully” and in ways that do not result in “unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires.”
“Every dollar we spend must advance reforms and improve learning,” Duncan told the Maryland elementary school gathering. “We are putting real money on the line to challenge every state to push harder and do more for its children. If states play games with these funds, the second round of stabilization funds could be in jeopardy and they could eliminate their state from competitive grant money. This money must be spent in the best interests of children.”
Additional guidance, fact sheets on the funds available under the SFSF, Title I, IDEA, and other programs, and a webcast of the briefing on guidance for ARRA is available at http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/index.html.