Education in the Stimulus Package

BlogHer Original Post

Now that the U.S. economic stimulus package has finally made its way through Congress, it's time to take a closer look at what's actually in the bill for formal and informal education. Despite Republican protests that many educational projects amounted to pork, the stimulus bill--thank goodness--does contain some money for education, research, and the arts.

You may have heard that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) initially had 73 Senators sign on to a stimulus amendment he authored:

None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project...

The good news is that the amendment was later modified to allow for funding for museums, theaters, and arts centers--though not, unfortunately, zoos and aquaria. CultureGrrl provides a nice round-up of the funding for arts-related initiatives, including a link to a PDF of the culture-related items in the bill. The NEA received $50 million, but the funds come with a caution not to unnecessarily increase the NEA's permanent staff--odd in a job-creation bill, but whatever.

Broadway World describes the restrictions on funding:

The compromise version of the bill with tax breaks and spending totaling $789 billion stipulates that the arts funding goes for grants to activities and projects "which preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn", with 40 percent of the amount going to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations ("in a manner similar to the agency's current practice") and the remainder going out in competitive grants from the NEA. Matching requirements are waived.

For a terrific explanation of how arts institutions contribute to the local economy and employ people, be sure to read Melody Kanschat's letter on behalf of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Here's an excerpt:

Museums employ more than a quarter-million Americans, spend an estimated $14.5 billion annually, and rank among the top three family vacation destinations. In fact, visitors to cultural and heritage destinations stay 53% longer and spend 36% more money than other kinds of tourists. Unfortunately, the economic downturn has forced museums to struggle just to maintain essential programs at a time when your constituents need those services most.

Through the course of our regular annual business the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:
- employs 450 people in our community;
- has an annual budget of $60 million;
- serves 800,000+ visitors each year, including 15% from out of town;
- serves 250,000 children each year through school visits to museums and programs in the schools;
- offers free or subsidized admission to over 400,000 visitors.

In addition to the arts funding, there are also billions of dollars for science and research-related expenses, including technology, building, and exploration.

But what about K-12 schools and higher ed? The Detroit Free Press summarizes the education allocations within the stimulus package:

• $53.6 billion in direct aid to states, including $40.6 billion for local school districts, $5 billion in bonus grants for meeting key education performance measures and $8 billion for public safety and other critical services.

• $2,500 annual tax credit for higher education expenses.

• $500 increase in the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010.

• $13 billion for Title I grants for schools in low-income areas.

• $12.2 billion for special education.

• $2 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant program to help low-income parents.

• $1.1 billion for Early Head Start and $1 billion for Head Start.

Alexandra Duncan at Edutopia provides more detail on some aspects of the education funding:

Under the bill, states will get $53.6 billion in what's called the state stabilization fund. Most of that money (about $39 billion) goes toward helping states restore cut programs, which, depending on the state, have included early-childhood education, after-school programs, professional-development money, and actual school staff. That money will go out more quickly, based on a formula, so schools aren't left wondering if they have to shorten their school year this year or make staff layoffs for the next school year.

Stripped from the bill is money for school construction. The funding, about $17 billion in the version first passed by the House, was a huge obstacle for the U.S. Senate and stayed out when the bill got through compromise committee. Instead, states can draw from $8.8 billion in the state stabilization fund for high-priority needs.

In what the Obama administration considers its reform piece of the stimulus package, there's $5 billion in incentive grants, which U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan calls "race to the top" money. Logically, this money won't be available until 2010, after states are able to put their stabilization funds in place. To get a grant, a state has to show how it's in compliance with a few measures under the No Child Left Behind Act already required under the law. They also have to put in place a statewide data system to measure student progress and make sure their standards lead students to college or other postsecondary training.

The grant does leave open a few questions, including how states will prove they're doing everything right, and what they'll do with their incentive money. Duncan says it's intended to make students and schools more competitive globally. Also included in the $5 billion is $650 million for more innovative programs, to "scale up what works" in schools, Duncan adds. How that money will get doled out is unclear.

Education Week goes even further into detail, exploring the effects the stimulus package may have on early intervention programs, educational technology, and No Child Left Behind.

For an excellent analysis of the utility of education in stimulating the economy, be sure to check out Nicolas Kristof's New York Times column, "Our Greatest National Shame." In it, Kristof argues that we not only need to spend money to improve the quality of instruction, but that the best teachers should be more fairly distributed across classrooms regardless of students' socioeconomic status. As it stands now, Kristof writes, "America’s best teachers overwhelmingly teach America’s most privileged students. In contrast, the most disadvantaged students invariably get the least effective teachers, year after year — until they drop out."

I'm so glad that the stimulus bill is also stimulating reconsiderations of the relative importance of K-12 and higher education on the American quality of life, culture, and economy.

What are your thoughts?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks develops learning experiences for K-12, university, and museum clients. She blogs at The Clutter Museum, Museum Blogging, and The Multicultural Toybox.

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