Don’t call it a second stimulus, but House Democratic leaders introduced a bill yesterday that’s meant to help jump-start the still-sluggish economy, but includes some new money for K-12 education (although nothing on the scale of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed last winter).
The bill includes a $23 billion state “education jobs fund,” which looks fairly similar to the nearly $50 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund that was created under the ARRA, in that states must restore cuts, proportionally, to early education, K-12, and higher education, then the rest of the money goes for other education purposes, such as school facilities. Districts are required to use the funds for compensation and benefits and services related to school modernization, renonvation, and repair.
Most notably: It appears that those four education redesign assurances you’ve heard so much about would not apply to these new funds. That means states wouldn’t have to report on how they plan to make progress on turning around low-performing schools, improve teacher quality and distribution, bolster standards and assessments, and step up data collection.
Maybe Congress just wants to get the money out as fast as possible, or maybe they don’t like what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is asking states and districts to do to get their state stabilization funds. If it’s the latter, Duncan may have a tough road ahead on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as the No Child Left Behind Law, since it sounds like at least some folks in Congress are questioning his policy direction.
Other notable exceptions:
-States can’t use education jobs money to replenish their rainy day and reserve funds, directly or indirectly, according to the bill. So no supplanting!
-States can’t use any more than 5 percent of the money for administrative purposes, including to retain or create jobs at the state higher education agency.
-There’s no governor’s fund that can be used for education, but also for public safety and other purposes. It’s all education, all the time.
The measure also includes an additional $4.1 billion for school construction bonds. The stimulus had over $20 billion for the bonds, and so far, they have proved very popular.
UPDATE: A spokeswoman for Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee emailed me to say that the assurances aren’t in the bill because states are already working to meet those requirements for the SFSF. So maybe it isn’t a policy statement after all.
UPDATE 2: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants folks to know the language in the new jobs bill doesn’t mean the department is backing off on the assurances or that states don’t have to meet them. The bill doesn’t change anything on that front. Here’s what he wrote in an emailed statement.
The additional $23 billion in this bill will provide states with critical funding to keep teachers teaching and students learning. The Department of Education will continue to require states to fulfill their commitments to turning around low-performing schools, improving teacher quality and distribution, bolstering standards and assessments, and improving data collection.
A congressional aide told me “States already had to meet the four assurances to receive state stabilization funds,” The language, “removes a redundancy to bring speedy support to education jobs.”
UPDATE 3: Apparently, some folks on the Republican side of the aisle are wondering about the logic behind the assurances language. Here’s what Ryan Murphy, a spokesman for Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the top GOP member of the House Education and Labor Committee, had to say about the jobs bill and the way it handles the assurances:
By not requesting assurances, this bill is in essence doling out money and asking nothing in return. But that is part and parcel of how the majority has operated throughout the year. They've continued to throw money at the problem with disappointing results. So, regardless of whether or not states should be required to sign additional assurances, the American people are asking why this legislation is a good idea when the first trillion dollar go around at this type of so-called "stimulus" has proven to be a phenomenal failure replete with lackluster job creation and an outright lack of accounting for the precious tax dollars that are being taken out of the private sector and funneled through Washington. It should also be noted that half of the original allotment of tax dollars earmarked for the stabilization fund have not even been spent by the states.
UPDATE 4:The bill was approved on a close vote of 217-212.