The perils of avoiding short-term pain
According to an Education Week review of the 31 applications approved as of late last week for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund—the largest piece of the education stimulus pie—nearly 90 percent of that money seems destined to backfill state cuts to education funding, with little left over.
More from the article:
The stabilization-fund applications that have already been approved confirm what school districts had feared: Much of this large infusion of money will be soaked up by states’ continued budget problems.
Overall, states on average are using about 87 percent of the stabilization funds to fill in K-12 and higher education cuts they already made in fiscal 2009, or cuts they would have had to make in 2010.
“We’re all disappointed,” Mr. Musso [Executive Director, Association of School Business Officials] said. “How are we supposed to make systemic change if the dollars are just buying the same thing we’ve been buying in the past?”
State and local government revenues have dropped markedly, and given the severity and causes of the current recession, it's clear that it will be a long time before they return to recent levels. (As an example, remember that much of of the revenue for local governments - and for schools - comes from property taxes, which still have a long way to fall, and will stay depressed for some time.) The $100 billion stimulus package for education was intended to give schools and districts a two-year reprieve so they could retool and be ready to operate in this very different funding landscape. And that doesn't seem to be happening.
Of course change is painful, and no one wants to let employees go; I understand that completely. But the reality is that by using all available funds to maintain the status quo, nothing is being done to prepare for a new funding reality that will inexorably hit in two years. The pain will be far worse then, since we weren't willing to feel a little pain now as we prepared.