Stimulus Helps Schools, but Not as Much as Hoped

Federal stimulus funds for education are flowing to states and local school districts, but many of the dollars are simply backfilling budget holes, limiting the ability of districts to implement innovative reforms, according to a study released today by the American Association of School Administrators. "Schools and the Stimulus: How America’s Public School Districts Are Using ARRA Funds," is based on a survey of 160 school administrators from 37 states conducted in July and August 2009. The study finds that while school leaders appreciate the opportunity the federal stimulus funding represents, a lack of flexibility in the funding and a need to fill federal, state and local budget shortfalls are sizeable obstacles that many districts have been unable to overcome in their efforts to save jobs and effect change.

"AASA members have voiced both appreciation for and concerns with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act," said AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech. "While they remain committed to their daily efforts to advance education reform and innovation, the current economic realities have severely limited their ability to use stimulus dollars for anything beyond filling budget holes."

Survey Highlights

A majority of districts have received or anticipate receiving soon their ARRA Title I, IDEA and State Fiscal Stabilization Fund dollars.

When asked how their districts are using ARRA funds to bring about education innovation and reform, more than two-thirds of respondents replied that the stimulus dollars are either filling funding gaps or represent only marginal growth in funding levels.

School districts are using the one-time funds to save teaching and staff positions. However, less than half of respondents reported being able to save core subject teaching positions with ARRA dollars.

The top five reported uses for ARRA Title I and IDEA monies are: professional development; saving personnel positions; classroom technology; classroom equipment/supplies; and software.
AASA members said a heightened level of bureaucracy and reporting tied to the stimulus funds limits their time and ability to implement education reform and innovation.

AASA President Mark Bielang, superintendent in Paw Paw, Mich., said: "The survey results echo a frustration my colleagues and I have long articulated: limited flexibility for the existing federal education funds cuts down on our ability to innovate, and the stimulus dollars come with limitations. In light of the tight economic situation at the federal, state and local levels, a little flexibility goes a long way toward supporting educator efforts to innovate and reform America’s public schools. AASA will continue to monitor ARRA and advocate for the greatest flexibility possible, so that school administrators across the country can maximize ARRA’s investment in America’s public schools."

Survey results: