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This Just In: Education Plays Key Role in Stimulus Package (page 3)

This Just In: Education Plays Key Role in Stimulus Package

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Updated on Feb 23, 2009

Friends to the bill or foe, all experts agree that it represents a big change in national policy.

It’s not just the amount of money that makes this bill historic, it also symbolizes a shift in the government’s role in education. Traditionally, the feds have been a minority partner in education, providing about 7 percent of total funding for education, usually in the form of aid to at-risk and special education students. With this bill’s passage, they’d be funding about 20 percent of education, including help for building construction and teacher pay.

Griffith says education analysts see it as a changing of the guards. Once states and districts start taking federal money, “Who’s going to be calling the shots?” he says. “The debate for several decades has been state vs. local. States have slowly taken over control, but the feds have been on the side-lines. Now it’s a three-way debate: state, local, or federal.”

The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations issued a statement that Congress needs a bold plan to “lay the foundation for American's economic competitiveness in the 21st century,” and based on how the money is divvied up, it's clear they see educating the future workforce as playing a key role in that endeavor.

In terms of immediate stimulus, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the package will prevent “literally hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs.” And, more than just preventing layoffs, Duncan says the money set aside to fix America's deteriorating schools will create many new construction jobs.

Skeptics project that only a small number of new jobs will be created, and that the plan will, instead, diminish fiscal discipline among school officials. “I would argue that when it’s free money coming from Washington there’s less incentive for local people to worry about how it’s being spent,” Hess says. And since the money has an expiration date of two years, experts worry what will happen once 2011 rolls around.

For right now, school officials, in the throws of budget season, are chomping at the bit to find out how much they’ll receive. “The longer it takes to get clear details of this, the greater the problems,” Griffith says. If the bill stalls, districts will have to put their budgets on hold, and that presents myriad challenge; schools can’t make purchase decisions and teachers will be in limbo about their employment status.

Regardless of where the package goes from here, it shows a clear message that the federal government wants to give more money—and place a greater stake—in the education of American school children.

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