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This Just In: Education Plays Key Role in Stimulus Package (page 2)

This Just In: Education Plays Key Role in Stimulus Package

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Updated on Feb 23, 2009

“If this functions correctly as it’s supposed to, your son or daughter will not see any difference in their class this year. It will be the same class, same textbooks, with the same computers. But if this didn’t happen they’d be in larger classrooms, with older books,” Griffith says.

Opponents of the bill say they prefer outdated textbooks to more debt. Rick Hess, director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research group, points out the government doesn’t actually have this money to spend. “It’s money we will continue to borrow against our kids,” he says.

Hess says instead of focusing on spending, schools should be paying closer attention to tighter accountability measures, teacher compensation, and professional development. “Just like an economy that's built on borrowing, we have a public education sector built on spending money to staff our schools without much attention to whether they can do their work,” he says.

According to Hess, the package demonstrates America’s continued unwillingness to face hard choices, such as laying-off teachers, in the face of an unstable economy: “This is a fork in the road for school reform, and we are going to take the course of minimizing short term pain, and putting off important decisions.”

Education analysts in support of the package say the money, albeit borrowed, is necessary and well accounted for. “It’s not a block grant where they give each state a blank check,” says John Laughner, legislative manager for the Committee for Education Funding, a nonpartisan and nonprofit education coalition.

The bill would be dished out in various grants. Some of the money, such as that set aside for special education, will use the same Title I formulas currently in place as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, where funding is decided based on the number of students eligible for a free lunch program. Other moneys would be given based on a cocktail of different population metrics, including the number of people in the state aged 5 to 24-year-olds and the state’s total population.

Still, some in Washington say the bill isn’t all that they’d hoped. “In the end it doesn’t feel like [the money] is really being allocated in ways that are benefiting states and districts,” says Jennifer Cohen, a policy analyst with the New American Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy think tank.

The criticism lies in the way the funds are distributed. The New America Foundation estimates that of all the recipients, Washington D.C. would get the most stimulus money in 2009 at $1,289 per student, followed by Puerto Rico at $927 per student, Louisiana at $785 per student, New York at $760, and Vermont at $679. Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, comes in eighth at $657—a ranking which shows the age-old formulas are flawed, Cohen says.

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