A while back I predicted that the gloomy condition of state and district budgets would likely lead to calls for another federal stimulus, this time aimed primarily at schools. As if on cue, Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the education committee, is seeking $23 billion so districts can avoid teacher layoffs and furloughs. The legislation, a version of which passed the House late last year, would be based on the $50 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund that was part of 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). And in a hearing this week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan came out in full support of the idea.
The first batch of stimulus money aimed at solving schools’ budget problems saved lots of jobs but it also did next to nothing for reform. Generally, it enabled America’s K-12 system to continue going about its business during dark financial times. We should expect about the same from this proposal: money that will quickly hit states, districts, and schools with little chance of changing how things are done.
For those inclined to say, “But saving teachers’ jobs is a worthy cause, and, anyway, the feds are spending all that Race to the Top money on reform,” please keep one thing in mind: The ARRA spent about $75 billion on these school deficit issues. This plan would bring the total up to about $100 billion.
Race to the Top is $4.35 billion.
So, yes, we’re spending a good bit of money on reform. But over that same couple-year period we may eventually spend about 25 times that amount sustaining the status quo.