George Washington University's Center on Education Policy (CEP) released a report Wednesday analyzing the effect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) on public education. The report found that ARRA stimulus funds helped reduce the damage of the recession and budget cuts to schools, and saved and created many jobs in education.
The ARRA, which directed an approximate $840 billion to helping our systems in 2009, allotted $100 billion of those funds for education, to assist states and school districts during the economic recession. In 2010, states and school districts received another $10 billion to save and create teaching jobs.
Included in the plans for the stimulus fund were the competitive grant programs such as Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation, as well as increased funding for the Title I, disabled students and classroom technology.
The report is a summary of findings from six different survey studies the CEP conducted between December 2009 and February 2012. State education agency officials, governors’ staff and school district officials were anonymously surveyed to get an inside look at the effects of ARRA on the K-12 public schools.
“Federal stimulus funds appear to have blunted the effects of the economic downturn on the K-12 education sector,” said executive director of the CEP, Maria Ferguson. “Although many districts still had to eliminate teaching and other key staff positions, our research indicates that the situation would have been worse without the stimulus funds.”
During the progression of the study, almost half of the states and a majority of school districts experienced budget cuts. ARRA grants helped stabilize the schools, compensating for a majority of their fund decreases in some cases, and only a portion of it in others.
During the 2010-11 school year 85 percent of districts facing budget cuts were still forced to cut jobs for teachers and other staff, even with the help of ARRA funds. Last school year, 61 percent of districts with budget decreases planned again to cut jobs.
The CEP finds, thankfully, that K-12 state budgets appear to have bottomed out. However, the stimulus almost completely bypassed state education agencies, which play a major role in implementing state reforms. Many of these agencies have had cuts in their funding and staff which have lessened their ability to help K-12 schools improve. The CEP is concerned that budgets for state education agencies will continue to be reduced.
The stimulus and grants, moreover, were only one-time resources, and schools have had difficulty implementing the reforms fully because of ongoing funding problems. Although competitive grants helped the schools stay afloat and encouraged a common set of reform goals, budget deficiencies continue to slow or postpone progress for some states and many districts.
"Given that nearly 84 percent of the nation's school districts reported funding cuts for the school year that just ended, parents and students may not see the full benefits of these reforms until local economic conditions improve," said Alexandra Usher, senior research assistant for CEP and co-author of the report.
The plans for reform in education are in motion, but the funding is not yet available to support them. Last October, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that a majority of states are funding K-12 education at lower levels than before the recession. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, local governments are paying more towards public education than states for the first time in 16 years.
Janel Spencer is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions