The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has surprisingly reached my desk, in the form of $3.14 million of new revenue to the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE). These funds are one-time only and must be used within 18 months or be returned to the Federal government.
At last Wednesday’s Board meeting, I and my fellow SCCOE trustees were asked to approve a revision of the FY2009-10 budget to incorporate these new funds into our previously approved budget. I voted “aye” reluctantly, with an admonition to County Superintendent Weis and staff that every public dollar is spent wisely with strong accountability measures. It is also our obligation that we make certain that the ARRA funds help stimulate the local economy.
The board transmittal from the Superintendent contained the intended use of over a third of the new money, or $1.25 million. According to the memo, the funds are to be used to support at least a portion of the salaries of the new directors of charter schools, career technical education (similar to old vocational education), and preschools; the coordinators of assessment and accountability, Region 5 ozone, math, reading/language arts, visual and performing arts; and the program director of district and school support. In the staffs’ analysis these expenditures meet the intended purpose of ARRA funds.
I do not want to be skeptical about the allocation of this money in the stimulus plan, but I think I am. The SCCOE staff will be formulating a plan on how best to use the remaining $2 million in new revenue during the next few months.
The core purpose of the $51.2 billion in total ARRA funds going to education in the U.S. is to save and create jobs, as well as improve education through four essential reform areas:
• Making progress toward rigorous college-and career-ready standards and high quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students.
• Establishing Pre-K to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement.
• Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualifed teachers for all students.
• Providing intensive support and effective intervention for the lowest-performing schools.
On another note related to new federal money: Lately there have been some provocative conversations in the local and state press that California might be left out of its share of “Race To the Top” reform funding of $4.35 billion. This challenge to California is due to a recently passed law that prohibits the state from tying test scores to teacher performance.
US Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan has said on numerous occasions that California has 300,000 teachers and has no way to know the top 10 percent from the bottom 10 percent. I agree with Mr. Duncan that this is a travesty and must be changed.
A smart and prudent use of ARRA funds can be the gift that keeps on giving if allocated judiciously. Education is the vehicle to propel the economy forward if our graduates from high school are equipped with the necessary skills. With nearly 50 percent of high school graduates in remedial classes in math and English at our CSU campuses, one must conclude we have a long way to go.
Performance pay based on quantifiable data relative to student achievement is one step in the right direction. Another is a comprehensive public relations plan to attract more college students to the teaching profession. I think these two strategies go hand in hand. ARRA funds should be used to promote and encourage them.