A+ Advice for Parents

Stimulus Money Saved Many Education Jobs

Q: My sister is vehemently opposed to our local school budget and argues that "Washington should butt out" of funding local schools. In a downturn, shouldn't we try to get more dollars from the federal government?

A: For decades, the federal role in public school funding has been limited. More than 90 percent of revenues for the nation's public schools come from state and local sources. The Center on Education Policy data shows that in school year 2007-8, the federal government contributed just 8 percent of the total revenues for elementary and secondary education.

Where does the lion's share come from? In 2007-8, an average 44 percent came from the states and 48 percent came from local sources -- mostly property taxes. The mix varies depending on the state. (In Nevada, only 31 percent came from the state. In Vermont, 86 percent came from the state.)

Your sister might be thinking of the federal economic stimulus funds known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed in February 2009. Education was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the $814 billion pot of money. Education got $100 billion, a one-time allocation that saved thousands of teaching positions on the chopping block due to reduced state and local revenues. (Three-fifths of the average school budget is spent on instruction.)

U.S. Department of Education data shows that the stimulus package funded more than 360,000 positions during the 2009-10 school year. For example, California saved more than 55,000 positions with the money; Florida, 25,000; and Georgia, 20,000. (Track education stimulus dollars at edmoney.org. Track all stimulus funds at recovery.gov.)

"While the number of jobs saved may seem eye-popping, the stimulus funding didn't seem like a windfall to many school districts," observes Education Week reporter Michele McNeil in a Hechinger Report on the impact of the dollars on school budgets. "That's because many recession-battered states, desperate to balance their budgets, cut education funding and spent the savings on other public services. They then used federal stimulus money to back-fill those budgetary holes for education."

The stimulus money included the Department of Education's $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund that compelled districts to improve education outcomes for students by implementing rigorous standards aligned with assessments; creating longitudinal data systems to track students' progress; improving effectiveness and distribution of teachers; and providing interventions to low-performing schools.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan described the investment as the country's education "moon shot" designed to lead the world in academic achievement. Will we look back in a decade and see results?

Only if parents and leaders at the local level get involved. A new report, "After the Stimulus Money Ends: The Status of State K-12 Education Funding and Reforms," shows that a majority of states say they are not planning to create incentives for highly qualified teachers or principals to remain in or move to districts and schools where they are needed most.

"This is likely because several actions related to educator effectiveness and low-performing schools have traditionally been addressed at the local rather than the state level," says Nancy Kober, report co-author. (For more information, go to www.cep-dc.org.)

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

More like A+ Advice for Parents