March 9, 2009
U.S. to Nation’s Schools: Spend Fast, Keep Receipts
By SAM DILLON
Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, sent a message to the nation’s school officials last week: Heads up! We’ll be sending you billions of dollars by month’s end. Spend the money quickly but wisely. And keep receipts; we’ll be asking.
The message, which went out Friday in documents e-mailed to governors, state education commissioners and thousands of school superintendents, provided the first broad guidelines for how the Education Department intends to channel $100 billion to the nation’s 14,000 school districts over the next few months. The expenditure is part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package.
Some $44 billion will be made available to states before the end of this month, Mr. Duncan said, in the hope that layoffs can be averted. Hundreds of thousands of job losses in schools had been projected for the fall because of growing state budget deficits caused by a steep drop in tax revenues.
More school stimulus money will be distributed in the spring through the fall, the documents said, after states apply for the financing and provide Congressionally mandated “assurances” to Mr. Duncan that they are complying with federal education laws.
“Spend funds quickly to save and create jobs,” a five-page guidance document sent to the education officials said. It also urged educators to use the money in the stimulus package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, in ways that “improve school achievement through school improvement and reform.” It also warned them to keep records of expenditures.
The guidance admonished educators to spend the stimulus money, which is temporary, in ways that would minimize the dislocation that could follow when it ran out in two years. Some department officials are describing the exhaustion of the stimulus money in two years as a “cliff” over which school districts could plunge if they do not spend the money wisely.
The money to be made available to states this month includes $5 billion in Title I financing, for disadvantaged students; about $6 billion for disabled students; and about $33 billion in fiscal stabilization money, which governors are to use to replenish education programs slashed in recent years and to prevent cuts to state education budgets for the coming school year.