By Karina Kinik
Call it learning in lean times: Many of the nation's public schools have taken a hit as states grappling with the economic crisis have made drastic budget reductions, leading to education program cuts, deferred spending on facilities, and teacher layoffs. But with the passage of the federal economic stimulus bill — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provides some $115 billion in new education funding — financial help is on the way to the country's 14,000 school districts.
Nearly $80 billion will go directly to states, though governors will need to make assurances their states are meeting education-reform criteria to receive certain funds; the first round of money should be available within the next four weeks. What impact will this aid have on schools in your community? At this point, exact figures for local districts are unknown — estimates for several programs can be found on the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor's EdLabor Journal blog — and specific projects have yet to be approved, but here is an overview of the major education-related allocations.
$53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
To address budget shortfalls in K-12 schools and higher education, the stimulus bill establishes a fund that will be disbursed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The bulk of the money, $39.5 billion, will go to state governments to prevent or reverse layoffs and program cuts. But because it will be distributed using existing funding formulas that rely on population data and therefore tend to favor bigger school districts and states with higher per-pupil spending, some districts may not reap as many benefits as others. According to the Ed Money Watch blog, published by the nonpartisan public policy institute New America Foundation, allocations will vary widely based on total stimulus funding per student and Title I (see below) funding per low-income student. Of the 50 largest school districts the blog analyzed, the Detroit City School District will receive the most in total stimulus dollars per student ($1,914) and Texas's Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District will receive the least ($240). "For many of these districts, particularly those with large impoverished populations," writes Jennifer Cohen, "stimulus dollars may significantly increase their per pupil expenditures. How this money will be spent, however, is yet to be seen. That will be the true test of the stimulus package and its impact on education."
As for private schools, at the states' discretion they could receive money for services such as remedial math and reading instruction for disadvantaged students and support for special needs kids, but the funds cannot be spent on tuition and vouchers or modernizing private school facilities. Public charter schools that currently receive aid through funding formulas for Title I, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, see below) and other programs should receive their share of stimulus money.
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