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Remember When K-12 Education Got a $100 Billion Windfall From Washington?

By Alyson Klein — February 18, 2019 3 min read
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Ten years ago this week, then President Barack Obama signed legislation that provided a whopping $100 billion for education, an amount almost double the U.S. Department of Education’s entire budget.

The education money was just one slice of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—otherwise known as the stimulus—which was intended to jump-start a sluggish economy struggling to get out from under the Great Recession.

What was in the stimulus for education? Quick trip down memory lane: The biggest chunk of the education funding, nearly $40 billion, was part of a “State Fiscal Stabilization Fund” aimed at making sure states didn’t suddenly lay off thousands of teachers or close schools as tax revenue plummeted.

But the measure also included $10 billion for Title I programs for disadvantaged students. And it provided $11.7 billion for state grants for special education.

It also advanced some of the Obama administration’s top education redesign priorities, including $4 billion for what became the Race to the Top program, which rewarded states for tackling teacher evaluation through student outcomes, putting in place comprehensive student data systems, adopting major school turnaround strategies, and embracing the Common Core State Standards. Another $650 million went to the Investing in Innovation grant program, which helped nonprofit organizations team up with districts to test-drive promising ideas.

And the law included $3 billion for the School Improvement Grants, which required states to use dramatic school district turnaround strategies, including turning a school into a charter, closing it down, or removing half the staff.

So what was the ultimate track record of these programs? Really mixed. Congress killed the SIG program when it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. And a SIG analysis released by the U.S. Department of Education found that the money did not yield significant results for students. (Others say that analysis ignored important data.)

Race to the Top is a thing of the past. And while more than 30 states have adopted the common core, the Obama administration’s choice to use the stimulus to push the standards sparked a massive backlash. States are increasingly ditching the tests that the feds funded to align with the standards. States are also backing away from teacher evaluation tied to test scores. State data systems, though, largely remain in place and are being used to track student growth under ESSA.

Since the passage of the stimulus, federal education funding has had a rough decade.

At the time the stimulus bill was unveiled, Edward R. Kealy, then the executive director of the Committee for Education Fundng, a lobbying coalition, said he hoped the new money represented a turning point for education funding. And he hoped the federal government would be able to sustain the momentum.

“This makes a very strong statement that providing adequate funding for education and modernizing schools is a key part of the solution to this economic crisis,” Kealy said. “We hope this means that we can sustain that in future years. I know that’s going to be a challenge.”

Unfortunately for Kealy, the feds didn’t really keep their feet on the education-spending gas pedal. When Republicans took over the US. House of Representatives in 2010 tea-party Republicans sought big cuts to education spending. In an effort to curb the federal deficit, Congress ultimately put in place trigger cuts that squeezed school funding, especially for schools that receive federal Impact Aid for having a military presence or Native American reservation nearby.

And in his first year, President Donald Trump sought to slash the U.S. Department of Education’s roughly $70 billion budget by $9 billion.

Last year though? Lawmakers approved a $518 million increase for the department, bringing its funding to $71.5 billion, the largest amount ever.

That increase, however, is just less than 1 percent of what the Education Department saw under the stimulus.

Image: Getty Images

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