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Education Funding

Stimulus Money: 30-45 Days Away

By Michele McNeil — February 25, 2009 2 min read
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Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Team Stimulus told state chiefs today that they can expect the first set of stimulus money to become available within 30 to 45 days, and that formal guidance from the department—the nitty gritty details on how all of this is going to work—will be out next week.

That was the gist of today’s Q-and-A meeting at the White House with Duncan (who was joined at the end by Vice President Joe Biden) and state chiefs. Thirty-six of them made the trip in, while three states sent designees. Education chiefs from the U.S. territories, including Northern Mariana Islands, also had a strong showing.

Disclaimer: Select members of the press (including yours truly) were allowed into the meeting only to hear closing remarks. But we were allowed to ask questions afterward of the meeting’s attendees.

Based on who was sitting nearest to Duncan at the meeting and who he singled out as his helpers, it’s becoming clearer who’s actually making the important decisions on how the stimulus money will be administered. In addition to Duncan, the strategic apex of Team Stimulus seems to be: adviser Jon Schnur, Chief Operating Officer Tony Miller, special assistant Ann Whalen, senior counselor Margot Rogers, and assistant secretary on policy Carmel Martin. UPDATE: I forgot to include senior adviser Mike Smith in the list.

It’s likely that the first set of money available will be formula dollars—such as part of the $13 billion that will flow through Title I. Since formulas for disbursing the money already exist, that’s an easy place to start.

The message Duncan and Biden conveyed is that a lot is expected from chiefs, and their schools, in exchange for this money.

“We’re going to have a much higher bar than other folks [receiving stimulus money],” Duncan told the chiefs. “We need to create jobs, and we need to get dramatically better.”

Biden pledged the administration’s continued support—so long as all of this money translates into results.

“This is going to be an education administration,” Biden said. “But we want to begin to change the script, demand more of everyone. We expect a hell of a lot more.”

But how will the administration demand—not just ask for—more from schools? Especially when much of the $115 billion or so in K-12 education aid is flowing to states and districts with little or no strings?

I posed that question to Duncan, who was so on-message about needing to get “dramatically better” that he didn’t explain how he would actually demand that.

The closest he got was in saying this: “Line-by-line we’re going to do everything we can to ask states to demonstrate to us what is going to change for students so we can dramatically close the achievement gap, so we can increase our high school graduation rates and ultimately our college graduation rates.”

Note that he said “ask states,” and not “demand.”

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