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Education Stimulus

What We Can (and Can’t) Learn from the Early SIG Results

November 20, 2012
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Release the kraken data! The U.S. Department of Education has finally revealed some of the results from its research on the effectiveness of the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, or rather, the one-time, $3 billion infusion to the SIG program included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The controversial program, which was re-tooled by the Obama administration, has supported intensive turnaround efforts – up to $2 million per school – in over 1,300 of the nation’s chronically low-performing schools.

The sliver of data released this week includes 2009-10 and 2010-11 test data from about 730 of the 831 highest priority SIG schools, those categorized into Tier I or Tier II.[1] Here are the highlights (H/T to RiShawn Biddle and PoliticsK-12):

  • Two-thirds of schools showed gains in math, and two-thirds in reading in the first year of the SIG program (2010-11)
  • 25 percent of schools saw double-digit gains in math, and 15 percent in reading
  • 40 percent of schools saw single-digit gains in math, and 49 percent in reading
  • 28 percent of schools saw a single-digit decrease in math, and 29 percent in reading
  • 6 percent of schools saw a double-digit decrease in math, and 8 percent in reading
  • 26 percent of schools had posted math improvements the year prior to entering SIG, but declined once they received SIG funding; this happened for 28 percent of schools in reading
  • 28 percent of schools had posted math declines the year prior to entering SIG, but improved once they received SIG funding; this happened for 25 percent of schools in reading
  • A larger proportion of elementary schools posted gains in the first year of the SIG program, compared to middle and high schools, and they were less likely to see declines
  • Rural schools appear to fair as well as schools in suburban and urban areas

But can we say that “there’s dramatic change happening in these schools” as Secretary Duncan claimed? Not so fast. Clearly, the Department didn’t read Matt DiCarlo’s excellent run-down of when you can – and cannot – make policy claims based on test data.

First, the Department doesn’t clarify whether any of these increases or decreases in test scores are statistically significant. Given inherent measurement error in any assessment and the fact that it is unclear if the Department is using proficiency rates (less accurate) or actual test scores (more accurate) to calculate these gains and losses, statistical significance cannot be assumed.

Second, the Department doesn’t clarify whether they are using cross-sectional or longitudinal data. In other words, were the gains or declines based on individual student growth (i.e. a student taking the 3rd grade test in math improved when taking the 4th grade math test) or were they based on comparing this year’s crop of 3rd graders in math to last year’s 3rd graders? My money is on the latter, which limits how we can interpret the data as the results aren’t fully comparable from the pre-SIG year to year one of the turnaround program.

Third, the Department doesn’t explain whether or how the researchers took into account other non-school factors that could affect student achievement. Without at least addressing these issues, it is impossible to know whether changes in student performance were even attributable to changes in school leadership or culture (i.e. the SIG program) rather than conditions in the economy or students’ home lives. And the Department doesn’t explain how they controlled for other policies at the school-level that could influence test scores. As chronically low-performing schools, the SIG interventions are unlikely to be the only improvement strategy or program at work in these schools.

These are huge caveats to the SIG data, but that’s not to say that ED’s findings aren’t important. They are. But more details are sorely needed to really make an accurate assessment of the program.

To begin with, the Department of the Education must disaggregate the data into the four turnaround models. More significantly, changes in student proficiency rates on standardized tests are only one possible outcome of the SIG program – and perhaps not the most important outcome to track. The Department plans to release student and teacher attendance data, enrollment in advanced courses, and other “leading indicators” for the SIG schools next year, but what about data relating to school leadership, school culture, and parent involvement?

While more difficult to quantify, these areas are also essential components of school turnarounds. Secretary Duncan alluded to it in releasing these early results: “What’s clear already is that almost without exception, schools moving in the right direction have two things in common; a dynamic principal with a clear vision for establishing a culture of high expectations, and talented teachers who share that vision, with a relentless commitment to improving instruction.” However, the data attached to Duncan’s statement failed to mention the effect sof leadership or teaching in SIG schools.

Predictably, analysts – notably Bellwether’s Andy Smarick – have already interpreted the early results as a failure of the entire SIG effort. But without more convincing and complete data, it really is too early to make definitive judgments about the program. This nuanced, wait-and-see approach may not be as satisfying, but in an effort as important as improving our nation’s worst schools, it is the right approach to take.

[1] To learn more about the SIG schools, including where they are located, how much money they received, and which improvement model – transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure – they selected, check out this handy-dandy map from Education Sector.

Low-Need States Benefited the Most from ARRA Spending

September 27, 2012

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided an unprecedented $100 billion in additional funding for education over fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011. It has been notoriously difficult to interpret how states used those funds, despite promises of “transparency” from the Obama Administration. Did the money go to support the states that needed the most help? According to a recent U.S. Department of Education report, no—on average states with high per pupil spending and high student achievement received the most.

The report examines distributions of ARRA funds per pupil at the state level, grouping them by various indicators of need such as student poverty, budget gaps, and percentages of students attending persistently low-achieving schools.  The authors find that 25 percent of states that had the highest per pupil spending received an average of $435 more per pupil than the 25 percent with the lowest spending. The trend is mostly explained by $4.4 billion in Race to the Top (RttT) grants which were awarded primarily to higher-spending states.

The 25 percent of states with the highest student poverty rates received the least ARRA funding per pupil, $1,358 compared to $1,372 on average. The states that received the most per pupil were actually the states with average poverty rates (between 12.9 and 20.4 percent). Those states received $1,419 per pupil on average. Similarly, states with the highest performing students (based on the percentage scoring proficient on National Assessment of Education Progress tests) also received more per pupil than states with lower-performing students. The high-performing states received $1,463 per pupil, while the low-performing states received $1,304.

However, the report’s findings suggest more ARRA funds found their way to states with big budget gaps. States with the largest budget shortfalls did receive more funding per pupil than those with smaller shortfalls – a surprising conclusion given that Congress did not target the funds to states with large funding gaps. The 25 percent of states with the highest funding gap received $1,431 per pupil, while those states with the smallest gaps received $1,288. Again, this difference is primarily attributable to Race to the Top funding – the states with the largest gaps received $109 per pupil in RttT, while the states with the smallest gaps received only $7 per pupil.

Overall, it is not be completely surprising that the ARRA funds did not target states with the highest need as measured by student achievement and spending. Much of the ARRA funds were distributed through existing federal funding formulas like Title I or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which take into account many other factors besides need like state size. The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the largest program in the ARRA, distributed funds according to population size. Instead, Race to the Top, a $4.4 billion competitive grant program, seems to drive most of the funding differences across states. This is likely because it was intended to benefit states that were willing to or already investing in their education systems and demonstrating positive results.

Still, interpret the Department’s conclusions with caution. In calculating per pupil expenditures, the authors had to exclude some ARRA funding that technically went to education programs. But more importantly, the figures include all State Fiscal Stabilization Funds allocated to each state, not only those spent on K-12 education. States were allowed to spend the funds on both K-12 and higher education, and on average 20 percent of the funds went to higher education. As a result, the numbers cited above and in the report actually overstate per pupil spending from ARRA, particularly in states that spent most of those funds on higher education, like Wyoming and Colorado.

In all, the report sheds some much-needed light on the distribution of ARRA funds to states (as well as school districts, though that is a whole other discussion). And it suggests that the various ARRA programs mostly did what they were intended to do – push out money to states as quickly as possible based on existing funding formulas and population. While the Department attempted to encourage states and districts to use these formula funds to support reform efforts, few did. Instead the overwhelming goal of keeping teachers in classrooms and students in seats dominated. Any hope of reform now rides completely on the backs of the competitive grant programs.

New Reports Analyze Federal and State Investments in Children

July 30, 2012

The economic recession has thrust more families into poverty and slowed federal, state and local revenue. A new report out this week from First Focus, “Children’s Budget 2012,” examines the amount of federal dollars directed toward children in this challenging climate.

Although total federal funding for children rose over the past five years by about 17.5 percent ($46 billion), the report finds this is primarily due to increased eligibility for entitlement programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. The annual discretionary funding Congress appropriates for children’s programs has fallen in each of the past two years, and dropped in inflation-adjusted terms by 1.5 percent between 2008 and 2012.

States Sit on Education Jobs Funds While President Asks for More

June 11, 2012

Last week, President Obama made a somewhat controversial comment about the need to support jobs in the struggling public sector. Then this weekend in his weekly address, the president called on Congress to do just that by passing the American Jobs Act, a $450 billion bill that would help states support public sector jobs. For education jobs the proposal would create a Teacher Stabilization Fund to provide $30 billion directly to school districts to help pay for employment-related expenses like salaries and benefits. The program is quite similar to the existing Education Jobs Fund of 2010, which provided $10 billion to support such expenditures, though that funding expires on September 30th, 2012. Surprisingly, many states have yet to draw down all of their available funds despite the tight state and local budget climate.

As of June 1, 2012, nearly two years after Congress passed the Education Jobs Fund, states and territories had drawn down 86.9 percent of the available $10 billion. Five states and territories have used all of their funds – Guam, Missouri, Northern Mariana Islands, South Dakota, and the Virgin Islands – and another 11 are close to that point, including Florida, Pennsylvania, and Washington State.

But significant portions of obligated funds remain for many states. In total, 15 states have drawn down 80 percent or less of their available funds.  Alaska, New York, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia all have 30 percent or more of their funds remaining. This means that New York, for example, has about three months to draw down nearly $240 million before the funds expire.

Texas, which has drawn down 72.6 percent of its funds, has $231 million to spend between now and the end of the fiscal year.

And many of the states with low draw-down rates faced significant budget shortfalls in 2012. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, New Jersey, which has drawn down 73.2 percent of its $272 million in Education Jobs Funds, faced a $10.5 billion (36.0 percent) budget gap in fiscal year 2012. And despite a budget gap of $3.8 billion (20.3 percent), Minnesota has only drawn down 76.2 percent of its funds.

Even states that have less than 20 percent of their funds remaining may have trouble spending them all in time.  Ohio, for example, has drawn down 85.6 percent of its Education Jobs Funds. However, that remaining 14.4 percent accounts for nearly $53 million, a sizeable chunk of change to spend over three months. This is particularly the case when those months are over the summer, when education expenditures are typically lower than during the school year.

To be sure, these unobligated funds do not indicate that states and school districts are in better financial shape than first thought or that President Obama’s $30 billion Teacher Stabilization fund would be unwelcome. However, the unspent Education Jobs Funds do suggest that Congress should do further analysis before providing more federal funding for education employment costs—especially given that the president has requested three times as much as was provided in the 2010 Education Jobs Fund. Such an analysis would ideally help ensure that those funds are sufficient and properly targeted to the states that need it the most.

Of course, this whole conversation could be moot. Congress was not particularly enthusiastic about the American Jobs Act back in September of 2011 when it was first proposed. After all, $450 billion is a massive amount of funding, equal to half the cost of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Even more so, it seems unlikely that lawmakers will take to it now as other education topics, such as student loan interest rates, monopolize their attention.

Click here to see data on Education Jobs Funds outlays for all states and territories.

State and District Capacity Undermines School Improvement Grant Implementation

April 17, 2012

The Obama administration has made improving struggling schools a major part of its education agenda. One piece of that effort is the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which received a large one-time influx of  $3 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

This SIG funding came with a host of new regulations for the program, including a requirement that schools use the funds to implement one of four strictly-defined reform models. The models range from replacing some principals and teachers at schools, to complete school closure. But although schools had lofty aspirations, a recently-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report suggests that many districts didn’t have the capacity or expertise to see them to fruition.

As a quick refresher, in 2010 the Department of Education divvied up $3.5 billion in SIG funds (including regular appropriations) to states in proportion to their share of Title I funds. States then distributed the funds to eligible school districts – those either in the bottom 5 percent in terms student performance or high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent – through a competitive grant process. Schools could receive a maximum grant of $2 million each year for three years. States selected the winning proposals and distributed the funds to districts beginning in mid-2010. Districts in some states received their SIG funds just weeks prior the start of the school year in which they had to implement their selected school turnaround plans.

The GAO report discusses the degree to which states provided capacity and oversight to districts as they adopted their school reform models based on a survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. From these surveys and through conversations with officials at the U.S. Department of Education, state education agencies, and districts, GAO identified several areas where states and districts lacked the resources, capacity, or oversight to effectively implement their respective reform plans.

For example, California, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Texas all cited budgetary constraints as a major obstacle to effectively administering the SIG program. Though all states were allowed to use up to 5 percent of the funds for administrative purposes, California only used 0.5 percent of its funds for this purpose. It appears that the state, due to budget restrictions, was unable to hire more staff to work on the program and the existing administrative staff was already over-extended.

But money was not the only resource districts and schools were short on. In many states, districts and schools – particularly those in rural areas that already faced staffing shortages – found it difficult to recruit new principals and teachers to replace ineffective school staff. According to the Department of Education, three of the states being monitored did not provide adequate oversight to ensure that schools actually replaced their principals – one of the criteria for schools receiving SIG funds. If staffing schools with high quality teachers and principals is a cornerstone of school improvement, it appears that some schools are already set up for failure.

GAO also noted that many schools struggled to make school reform decisions based on achievement data, either because they did not actually have access to the necessary data or because they lacked the expertise to analyze the data towards meaningful decisions. Schools become SIG-eligible based on their test outcomes. It is troubling that some of the nation’s lowest-performing schools still do not have the capacity to harness this information and learn from it.  

When it came time to determine whether schools and districts should receive continued SIG funding, many states renewed grants even when districts were failing to implement their school turnaround plans. States likely understood that these districts faced many challenges with abbreviated timelines and limited capacity. Indeed, some states explicitly acknowledged these difficulties. However, it is unclear whether these states were responsive to their districts’ needs or are currently providing outreach to ensure these problems don’t persist.

The GAO report reveals some significant shortcomings in the implementation of SIGs so far. However, it also raises some important questions about how the Department should move forward with the program. For example, it is clear that districts need more technical assistance and capacity to implement the Department-mandated reforms. But who is ultimately responsible for increasing school capacity – the federal government, states, or districts?

And though prior to 2009 the Department established two systems to help schools boost their capacity for school reform – Comprehensive Centers and Regional Educational Laboratories – they haven’t necessarily filled the capacity vacuum among the lowest-performing schools. These schools either don’t have sufficient access to Department services, or they need more support than is currently available to them.

Similarly, many states renewed district grants even when districts were far behind schedule. What is the right balance between providing extra flexibility to struggling districts and ensuring districts are accountable for the funds they receive? Currently, the Department provides funds, and expects states and districts to oversee implementation. But states have not yet effectively met the needs of their most struggling schools, raising the question of whether a more active federal role is needed.

The School Improvement Grant program can only succeed if schools and districts are given the tools necessary to implement their chosen reform models. Giving districts funds when they lack the capacity to use them wisely seems akin to expecting a team of rookies to win the World Series – anything can happen, but the odds are against them. 

Education Jobs Fund Maintenance of Effort Data Raises Some Red Flags

March 20, 2012

In August of 2010, Congress passed and the president signed into law the Education Jobs Fund, a $10 billion program meant to fill gaps in state funding for K-12 education salaries and benefits. The funds, which were intended for use in the 2010-11 school year, are available through September 30th, 2012. Much like the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, a similar program created in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress required that the Department of Education distribute the funds among states based on population. Lawmakers also included a maintenance of effort (MOE) provision that essentially required states to maintain certain levels of funding for both K-12 and higher education. The data gathered through this maintenance of effort provision, which each state must submit annually on spending levels, provide an interesting picture of state spending for K-12 and higher education and tax revenues since 2006. Below, we examine that data to gain insight on the degree to which low tax revenues have affected state spending on education during the downturn.  

Unlike the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the maintenance of effort provision for the Education Jobs Fund allowed each state to select a different MOE calculation depending on their tax revenue situation. The three options are: (1) maintain K-12 and higher education spending at 2009 spending levels; (2) maintain K-12 and higher education spending levels at the same proportion of state spending as they did in 2010; or (3) if state tax revenues in 2009 were lower than in 2006, maintain K-12 and higher education spending levels at either 2006 levels or in the same proportion of state spending as they did in 2006.

Each method results in very different data, so it is best to analyze fluctuations in state spending for education by each MOE method. Today, we will examine the data on the 31 states that opted to use method 3 – because their tax revenues were lower in 2009 than in 2006, they could keep spending for K-12 and higher education at 2006 levels (we’ll save the discussion of states that kept spending in the same proportion of total spending as 2006 for another day).

Unsurprisingly, the degree to which total tax revenues in these 31 states dropped from 2006 to 2009 varied greatly. New Mexico saw the greatest drop in revenues at 23.2 percent, while Georgia saw a 16.7 percent drop and Arizona saw a 15.6 percent drop. West Virginia experienced the smallest drop at 0.1 percent (about $4 million).

Despite the revenue drops these state reported, their MOE submissions show that they increased education spending significantly from 2006 to 2011, particularly for K-12 education. For example, Utah’s submission shows a 28.4 percent increase in funding for K-12 education from $1.8 billion to $2.3 billion. Oregon shows an increase of 19.2 percent and Illinois shows an increase of 19.8 percent. Increases in Indiana and Nevada are both over 65 percent.  Only three states – Arizona, Minnesota, and Mississippi – showed increases below 3.0 percent.

Of course, it wouldn’t be unusual for states to increase  K-12 education spending over a 5-year period under more normal budget circumstances due to increasing enrollment and costs. What the MOE data could be telling us is that many states protected K-12 spending during the economic downturn that began in 2007.

But these numbers are also curious, if not dubious. Large contractions in state tax revenues and repeated media reports of states cutting education spending make some of these data difficult to believe. 

The MOE data for the 31 states also show growth in higher education spending, though not at as high of rates as K-12 spending. New York State showed an increase of 22.3 percent from $3.3 billion to $4.0 billion from 2006 to 2011 and Connecticut showed an increase of 17.6 percent. But many states showed increases below 3.0 percent – 13, including Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Low growth for higher education in many states is not surprising. States often make cuts (or delay increases) to higher education before K-12 education because it has a smaller constituency and they can rely on tuition increases to make up the difference. However, many public higher education systems have faced dramatic increases in enrollment as a result of the economic downturn, placing greater pressure on their strapped systems.

One can’t help but wonder what to make of the MOE reports. Are state K-12 and higher education systems really better off in terms of state support than media reports would have us believe? It’s hard to know for certain because the numbers may include block programs or additional funding streams that are not included in basic state support. State spending through these specific programs could benefit only certain districts or be earmarked for very specific uses.

What is clear is, however, is that states have been able to use the MOE provision of the Education Jobs Fund to their advantages. All 31 states successfully show that their tax revenues were lower and that they funded K-12 and higher education above 2006 levels in 2011 – thereby meeting the MOE requirement. Whether districts and schools are actually seeing more funding than in 2006, especially per pupil, is entirely another story.   

To download data on all 50 states and the District of Columbia, click here.

Event Reveals New Fiscal Realities for Public Higher Education

March 1, 2012

The Federal Education Budget Project, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, held an event today examining the future of funding for public postsecondary institutions, given that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds are no longer available. The event was inspired by a recently-completed series of FEBP research papers that explored how states utilized ARRA money to support state higher education institutions through the recession.

After FEBP senior policy analyst Jennifer Cohen framed the discussion with conclusions from her research, Nick Johnson of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Dr. Paul Lingenfelter of State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO), and Dr. Stephen Jordan, president of Metropolitan State College of Denver, gave their insights on the use of stimulus funds – and what states will do without those funds. (The full webcast of the event is below.)

Though they work in different (if overlapping) areas of economic and education policy, all three speakers agreed on one thing: Budgets for state institutions of higher education aren’t out of the woods yet.

According to Johnson, in fiscal year 2010, states were able to fill their budget gaps through a combination of factors, including state budget cuts (which filled 37 percent of shortfalls) and federal stimulus assistance (33 percent). But now that the stimulus funds are gone, states will have little recourse outside of cutting spending or increasing revenue. In fiscal year 2012, 42 states faced budget shortfalls; 29 are projecting shortfalls in 2013. At the same time, some states are considering significant tax cuts, including eliminating income taxes altogether. To balance their budgets, especially in a year with decreased federal aid due to the expiration of stimulus monies, states will likely be forced to make additional cuts to state programs.

Recent trends suggest that the fiscal constraints under which states operate may lead to even tighter budgets for state colleges and universities as state legislatures often look to higher education budgets for savings. Lingenfelter presented evidence showing that over the past 25 years the state share of costs for public higher education have dropped significantly, leaving students to shoulder the burden through increased tuition and fees. According to SHEEO’s fiscal year 2012 State Higher Education Finance report, state support for higher education will drop by an additional 7.6 percent from fiscal year 2011, compounded by the absence of ARRA funds to help plug the gap. Should student enrollment continue to grow, states will be forced to make difficult decisions about raising tuition further and cutting per-student state funding.

Though the situation seems dire, some institutions have turned the economic downturn into an opportunity for innovation and growth. Jordan, the final presenter, is acutely aware of the fiscal realities facing Colorado; in 2009 Metro State faced a $10 million cut in state support. Whereas state support in fiscal year 2001 made up 68 percent of student funding and students contributed 32 percent, by fiscal year 2012 those numbers had flipped so that students now bear 66 percent of the cost and the state only 34 percent. In response, he and other leaders at Metropolitan State College have focused on increasing productivity, finding new revenue sources, and serving their students in new and innovative ways.

This conversation has important implications for public higher education institutions across the country as they tackle what will likely be many more years of constrained budgets. Many public colleges and universities have relied on tuition increases and strategic cuts to make ends meet. But it appears that those methods will soon be insufficient to fill gaps or make attendance unattainable for lower-income students. Instead, these schools should look for new finance and structural models, much like Metro State has, to determine how they can provide the highest quality services to their students with the budgets they currently have.

You can view the presentation slides from the event here (Jennifer Cohen; Nick Johnson; Paul Lingenfelter; Stephen Jordan). To participate in the discussion around stimulus funds and higher education on Twitter, tweet using #HigherEdPostStim. The full webcast of the event is available here:

Upcoming Event: Funding Public Higher Education Post-Stimulus

February 27, 2012

Over the past three years, state funding for higher education has changed dramatically in the face of a weak economy. Many states cut their higher education spending, forcing colleges and universities to replace those lost funds with large increases in tuition and fees. Meanwhile, states have quietly spent over $8 billion in federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to fill gaps in state support for higher education. Few have paid attention to how states used these funds – part of the $48.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund – leaving a gap in our understanding of what the federal stimulus bill did and did not mean for higher education.

The Federal Education Budget Project, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, has been working to draw attention to the impact these federal funds had on state institutions of higher education. Last year, FEBP released three policy papers on the subject. The first focuses on how state spending for higher education has changed since the implementation of the ARRA, both in dollar terms and as a percent of total state spending. The second examined how states divided their SFSF monies between K-12 and higher education in each year. The third involved in-depth case studies on how eight states and their institutions of higher education used the funds and what will happen once the funds are gone.

On Thursday, March 1st, FEBP will host a panel discussion as a capstone for this research that focuses on public funding for higher education in the post-stimulus world and what this will mean for students.

Nick Johnson, Vice President for State Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities will discuss predictions of state tax revenues and what that will mean for state spending. Dr. Paul Lingenfelter, President of State Higher Education Executive Officers, will explore how states are planning to support their institutions of higher education in the absence of any additional federal support. And Dr. Stephen Jordan, President of Metropolitan State College of Denver, will discuss the tactics his institution has used to deal with shrinking state support and how these efforts will continue.

Please join us for what will surely be an important conversation about state spending, tuition increases, and the importance of institutional autonomy and innovation in this time of scarce resources.

Funding Public Higher Education Post-Stimulus
Thursday, March 1
New America Foundation
1899 L St NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036

Click here to register for the event. The event will also be live webcast on the event page for viewers outside the Washington area or others who cannot attend in person. No advance registration is necessary to view the webcast.

Some States Still Lagging in ARRA Title I Spending

January 19, 2012

Though fiscal year 2011 – the year most education funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 were set to expire – has come and gone, some states are still clinging to their ARRA Title I funds. These funds are intended to provide additional services for low-income students and are distributed by formula among states and school districts. In an effort to give states the opportunity to use all of their Title I funds from the stimulus bill, last September the Department of Education gave states permission to apply for waivers that would allow them to obligate any remaining ARRA Title I funds through the end of fiscal year 2012. Previously, those states have to obligate the funds September 30th, 2011 and spend them by January 3rd, 2012.

This was a significant development for several states that initially faced obstacles in distributing their ARRA Title I funds to districts. In some cases, states had tens of millions of dollars remaining on October 1st, 2011. But it appears that the vast majority of states had at least some money lingering in their ARRA accounts at the end of the 2011 fiscal year. Where do those states stand today? 

According to Department of Education spreadsheets on outlaid and remaining ARRA Title I funds, only six states had used every single one of their ARRA Title I dollars as of January 13, 2012. Those states are Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and Vermont, an interesting collection of states with widely varied budget deficits during the economic downturn.

Most states have somewhere between 0.1 percent and 2.0 percent of their funds remaining, meaning they have about 8 months to spend anywhere from a few thousand dollars (Connecticut and Alaska, for example) and several million (Ohio, Texas, and California, among others). In total, over $175 million is still unspent, 1.8 percent of the total $10 billion made available.

But a few states have really lagged in getting their funds out the door. Puerto Rico is the biggest offender – it has $70.0 million in funds remaining, 17.3 percent of its original allocation under ARRA Title I. Nebraska comes in second with 14.2 percent, or $6.8 million in remaining funds. North Dakota, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey round out the top five, each with over 5.0 percent of their funds remaining.

It is likely that the states with relatively small proportions of their funds remaining will have little trouble obligating and spending their ARRA Title I funds between now and September 30th, 2012. But the states with significant remaining balances will have to engage in some thorough and thoughtful planning to make sure they don’t lose any of these funds at the end of the year.

To download a table containing these data for all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, click here.

ED Reveals Details on Third Round of Race to the Top Competition

November 17, 2011

Yesterday, the Department of Education released the details for the third round of the Race to the Top competition. The first two rounds of Race to the Top (RttT) were created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to help spur systemic education reform in states. Though RttT did not receive any funding in the regular 2010 appropriations, this third round is made possible by $698 million in hard-won funding for the program from fiscal year 2011 appropriations. While the majority of that $698 million will go towards a separate $500 million early learning competition, $198 million will be available to the nine states that applied for the second round of the competition but did not win a grant.

This means that only Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina are even eligible for the funds. Essentially, the third round of the competition will allow each state to select certain aspects of their Round 2 RttT proposal to fund with this pot with a particular emphasis on activities to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

However, each state is not automatically entitled to their share of the $198 million. Congress required that the funds be divided amongst the states based on their proportional share of the school-age population, and each state then must meet the following requirements:

1. Submit signatures of support from the governor, chief state school officer, and president of the state board of education;

2. Provide performance measures for any activities selected for funding with round three funds that were not specified in the round two application;

3. Be in compliance with Education Jobs Fund maintenance of effort requirements;

4. Be in compliance with an aspect of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Phase Two application relating to state longitudinal data systems;

5. Not have any legal barriers between linking student achievement data to teacher or principal effectiveness (commonly known as the student-teacher data firewall);

6. Be participating in an effort to improve the quality of state assessments through a consortium of states (like the consortiums currently funded by the Race to the Top Assessments competition).

Additionally, the law requires that each state “maintain, at a minimum, the conditions for reform described in its Race to the Top Phase 2 application.” This basically means that each state cannot backtrack on any of the reform efforts underway at the time of their round two applications like participation in the Common Core State Standards or plans to work with struggling schools.

These requirements already spell trouble for a couple of states.

South Carolina, which could very likely be uninterested in the funds to begin with, does not meet the Education Jobs Fund maintenance of effort provisions. California, which recently lost its State Longitudinal Data Systems grant, does not currently have the ability to link student data to teachers in its state data system – a requirement of the SFSF Phase 2 application. Other states could also be at risk if they have begun to undermine any reform efforts linked with their Race to the Top applications. But the Department should not be faulted for placing these restrictions on the funds – they could go a long way in ensuring that this third round of funding will go to the states most dedicated to implementing real reforms.

Overall, the greatest surprise hidden in the Department’s Race to the Top announcement was the focus on STEM education. Though the Department isn’t requiring that states use the third round of funding exclusively for STEM-focused efforts, each state will have to “allocate a meaningful share of its Phase 3 award to advance STEM education.” Though the announcement does not specify what a “meaningful share” constitutes, it appears that the Department has decided that investing these RttT funds in STEM education will give them the most bang for their reform buck.

UPDATE: A powerpoint presentation available from the Department of Education defines "meaningful share" as "sufficient funding for selected activities that are likely to result in measurable improvement in one or more STEM outcomes related to each activity. For example, a $2 million investment in expanding the number of teachers qualified to teach Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus would be considered meaningful if the State could demonstrate that this level of funding would lead to a significant percent increase in the number of students in high-poverty schools taking AP Calculus over a 3-year period."

Luckily for those nine states, each one received 100 percent of the possible 15 points available in the STEM competitive priority in their round two applications. This means each state theoretically has a detailed plan for STEM education already in their RttT proposals. Assumedly, each state will prioritize these efforts when they select parts of the proposals to support with the round three funds. But each state is also able to invest their share of the round three RttT funds in other areas of their application, if they have funds remaining. The efforts they select for the remaining funds will reveal each state’s reform priorities outside of the Department’s focus on STEM.

States interested in applying for the round three funds have until November 22nd to provide the initial assurances described above, a pretty short timeline. Once they are deemed eligible for the funds, they have until December 16th to submit a plan that identifies what aspects of their previous application they will be funding, a budget for these activities, and performance measures. Check back with Ed Money Watch for continued coverage of the competition.

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