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GAO: Most Districts Not Spending Stimulus on Reform

By Michele McNeil — July 10, 2009 1 min read
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From guest blogger Dakarai I. Aarons:

The Obama Administration has said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would not only help drag the economy out of the doldrums, but also lead efforts to make the nation better equipped and more competitive in a global economy.

Or as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan so often puts it, the economic-stimulus funding should be used to save jobs and drive reform.

But a report by the Government Accountability Office, released this week to Congress, shows those hopes for big improvement initiatives in the area of education haven’t yet materialized. That’s particularly true when it comes to the $48.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the biggest single pot of education-related stimulus funding.

Instead of focusing on the kinds of efforts Duncan has been traversing the country to promote, school district officials said they were planning to use the money primarily to avert layoffs, bolster professional development, and make up for any budget holes caused by cuts in state education funding.

School leaders in Flint, Mich., for example, said they simply didn’t have enough money to start thinking about reform:

In Flint, Michigan, officials reported that SFSF funds will be used to cope with budget deficits rather than to advance programs, such as early childhood education or repairing public school facilities. According to the Superintendent of Flint Community Schools, the infrastructure in Flint is deteriorating, and no new school buildings have been built in over 30 years. Flint officials said they would like to use SFSF funds for renovating buildings and other programs, but the SFSF funds are needed to maintain current education programs."

Even if schools wanted to use the state fiscal stabilization money for reform, the report found, many district leaders said they found directions on how to do so unclear.

Officials in many school districts we visited reported having inadequate guidance from their state on using SFSF funding, making reform efforts more difficult to pursue. School district officials in most states we visited reported they lacked adequate guidance from their state to plan and report on the use of SFSF funding.”

The GAO is expected to release these stimulus updates every 60 days or so, and we’ll keep you posted on what they find.

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