February 17, 2011 marks the two-year anniversary of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA). ARRA allotted $814 billion in an economic stimulus package aimed at addressing the nation’s worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Approximately $100 million of the stimulus funding was allotted to education programs, and on February 12, 2011 Education Week published at www.edweek.org a series of articles to assess the actual impact of this one-time expenditure on education programs and initiatives.
In Mixed Report Card for Education Stimulus After 2 Years, Education Week questions whether ARRA’s investment in education will result in higher academic achievement for students, including those most at risk of failure. The article quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan as stating “We have a long way to go. We have not done it. We’re not even close.” The article credits ARRA with saving approximately 368,000 education-related jobs during the 2009-10 school year, but acknowledges that many of those jobs may soon be lost because the economic recovery is occurring very slowly for states and school districts.
In addition to saving jobs, the ARRA education stimulus was intended to spur education reform. As a condition to accepting stimulus funds, states and school districts committed to reforms that are, due to the economy, proving difficult to finance. ARRA’s Race to the Top program became the largest grant competition ever undertaken by the U.S. Department of Education, providing a total of $4 billion in awards to 11 states and the District of Columbia that agreed to aggressive initiatives for education reform in their respective grant applications. According to Education Week, some of winners are experiencing difficulty in implementing some of their proposed reforms, particularly proposals to tie teacher evaluations to student achievement. Some states that unsuccessfully applied for a Race to the Top grant are left with implementing costly reforms without additional federal funding.
Another important component of ARRA is the $3 billion School Improvement Grant (SIG) program that finances school efforts to turn around the lowest-performing schools. According to Education Week, a report released in August 2010 found that school districts were largely unprepared to turn around low-performing schools using one of the four turnaround models prescribed by the SIG program.
In Consultants in High Demand as ARRA’s Clock Ticks, Education Week reported that the $100 billion in stimulus money has significantly increased the demand for education consultants. “Faced with nerve-racking timelines, their own bold promises, and a dearth of in-house expertise, states and school districts have anxiously sought advice on how to demonstrate progress and avoid missteps.” According to the article, many states are beginning to sign contracts for outside consulting services ranging from building longitudinal databases to turning around low-performing schools. As an example of how lucrative education consulting has become because of ARRA, the article points out that more than half of Ohio’s $194 million Race to the Top grant will be awarded to external providers.
Education Week’s ED Tech Rides Wave of Stimulus Funding reports that states and districts are funneling a major portion of their stimulus funds into technology. Technology investments are being driven by ARRA’s Enhancing Education Through Technology, Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and State Longitudinal Data Systems programs.
With about three-quarters of the education stimulus funds already spent, approximately $26 billion remains in the bank for grant recipients, according to Education Week’s article Federal Watchdogs Hit Oversight Trail on Stimulus.