As Congress debates an economic-stimulus package, state officials are starting to consider how they might spend more than $120 billion in new education money.
But every state has a specific plan ready to go in one area: building education data systems.
Over the past four years, each state has been working to improve its ability to collect, warehouse, and analyze a variety of education data, including test scores, coursetaking, and other relevant school information.
“Policymakers are recognizing this is something they’ve got to do ... to have the exciting conversations” about such major priorities as academic rigor and teacher quality, said Aimee Guidera, the executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, an Austin, Texas-based coalition of groups representing state officials.
The stimulus bill that the House passed last week includes $250 million to help states upgrade their education data systems through an existing federal program. Over the past four years, 27 states have received $122 million from the Statewide Data Systems program.
More importantly, Ms. Guidera said, every state has applied for money from the competitive-grant program. That means every state should be ready to spend any stimulus money set aside for that purpose.
Such funding is not guaranteed—the plan approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week doesn’t include money for data systems, for one thing. And critics of the stimulus process say the bills include too much money for programs that won’t be spent immediately.
But Ms. Guidera said that the data system money should be included in a stimulus package because such projects are in danger of being halted in the current lean fiscal climate.
“Some of the states that have made phenomenal progress are at risk for stalling completely or going backwards,” Ms. Guidera said. With such systems, she said, “we’re on the edge of transforming education by having access to real information that we’ve never had access to before.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 04, 2009 edition of Education Week