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Equity Symposium: Federal Education Money Plugging Budget Holes But Not Advancing Equity

The annual Equity Symposium unveiled research showing that $100 billion in federal funds going to states for school systems is not advancing equity for poor students. To read a New York Times story on research being presented at the symposium, see http://nyti.ms/a0G6KE. To read an op-ed in The Huffington Post by TC's Michael Rebell on the unconstitutionality of current school budget cuts, see http://bit.ly/9nEoRy.

The first in-depth analysis of how states are spending education stimulus funds

Attorney Michael Rebell says states are not meeting their constitutional obligations to low-income students

States are using federal education stimulus money intended to promote innovation and lasting equity reforms in K-12 schools to instead plug holes in education budgets ravaged by the economic recession.

That is one of the themes of "Stimulating Equity? The Impact of the Federal Stimulus Act on Educational Opportunity," the fifth annual Educational Equity Symposium on Monday, February 8, and Tuesday, February 9, at the Cowin Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 W. 120th Street, New York City.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the U.S. Department of Education is distributing to states an unprecedented $100 billion  -- more than double the amount of federal education aid in 2009 -- to stabilize declining education budgets and encourage reforms that will raise student achievement. Researchers have found that states did well on the first charge, using federal dollars to prevent massive layoffs and shut-downs of major programs. But most states are not using the one-time cash infusion to move forward with equity improvement plans, to the extent that Congress and the U.S. Department of Education had expected.

Teams of researchers presenting papers at the symposium examined state budgets and interviewed state officials to determine how they are using this windfall of education funds. Michael A. Rebell, director of the Campaign for Educational Equity; Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy; and David G. Sciarra and Danielle Farrie of the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey with Bruce Baker at Rutgers University, will discuss the following findings:

  • States are using this one-time windfall of federal money to maintain existing staffing levels and create data systems to assess and track student progress. Except for the new Title I and IDEA money, little of the money is going toward educational reform or increasing equity (all three papers).
  • ARRA was highly successful in assisting states to maintain or even increase their basic educational funding, at least for 2009 and 2010. But in one survey, none of the 20 states studied were using ARRA stabilization money for new reform initiatives, suggesting that states are not going to set aside scarce funds to support equity if they are not backed up by mandatory directives or strong maintenance of effort requirements (Rebell, Wolff and Yaverbaum).
  • Although the one-time allocations were supposed to last through Fiscal Year 2011, states have already spent as much as 70 percent of the money, raising questions about their compliance with ARRA rules and their long-term solvency (Sciarra, Farrie and Baker).
  • Several states out of 11 studied did not restore their aid to local districts to 2008 or 2009 levels, as intended by ARRA legislation. Mid-year cuts may put more states below this level (Sciarra, Farrie and Baker).
  • State education funding problems are likely to worsen this year and next, as almost half of the states will have used up their ARRA money by the end of this school year and more states foresee shortfalls in their education budgets (Rebell, Wolff and Yaverbaum).
  • Even with grants earmarked for programs that service low-income or disabled students, pressure to maintain existing staff positions and programs has induced states and local districts to use large amounts of these funds to maintain the status quo or to find ways to divert these funds to general uses, rather than to innovate (Rebell, Wolff and Yaverbaum).
  • The need to spend Title I and IDEA funds quickly has led districts to add large numbers of temporary staff positions or to concentrate their efforts on technology purchases and short-term professional development programs, rather than invest in teacher recruitment and retention, and other enduring capacity-building efforts that would have more lasting reform impact (Rebell, Wolff and Yaverbaum).

Rebell, an attorney, said the inattention to quality education for poor children in many states violates their constitutional rights, which "do not evaporate during times of fiscal crisis."

Opening keynote addresses will be delivered February 8 by Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell (via live video), who has insisted that funding for educational equity provisions in his state continue as scheduled despite the current economic downturn; and on February 9 by Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, who is responsible for enforcing civil rights law in schools. Susan H. Fuhrman, President of Teachers College and a prominent national scholar of education policy, will welcome participants on Monday.

Also at the symposium:  Maris Vinovskis, professor of history, University of Michigan, will deliver a paper on the expanding role of the federal government in education. Joseph Martin, Executive Director, Georgia School Funding Association; Timothy Mitchell, Superintendent, Chamberlain School District 7-1, South Dakota; and Candace Cortiella, Director, Advocacy Institute (Wash, D.C.) will discuss the impact of the federal stimulus act on states with historic high concentrations of poverty.

A session on handling budget shortfalls in New York State will include Photeine Anagnostopoulos, Chief Operating Officer, and Alison Avera, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, of the New York City Department of Education; Dan Lowengard, Superintendent of the Syracuse City School District; Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, Executive Director of Say Yes to Education in Syracuse; Glynda Carr, Executive Director of Education Voters of New York State; and Geri Palast, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

John Merrow, an independent TV producer who has produced education shows for PBS, will discuss with Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts, and Jennings whether schools can maintain basic educational quality despite the severe fiscal constraints that are likely to be in place in coming years, and how policy at both the federal and state levels can deal with this growing crisis.

For a full schedule of the symposium, go to http://www.tc.edu/centers/EquitySymposium/symposium10/program.asp.

Full papers and summaries of them are available at http://www.tc.edu/symposium/papers.asp
For media inquiries, please contact :

Patricia Lamiell

Director of Media Relations

To register to attend the symposium, please visit www.tc.edu/symposium or call Jessica Garcia at (212) 678-8362. To learn more about the Campaign, visit  www.equitycampaign.org.

Published Monday, Feb. 8, 2010