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AASA Survey Reveals Both Success and Disappointment with Stimulus Funding

  Collectively, we must advance ARRA's short-term economic goals by investing quickly, and we must support ARRA's long-term economic goals by investing wisely, using these funds to strengthen education, drive reforms, and improve results for students from early learning through post-secondary education.  
    -excerpted from "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Saving and Creating Jobs and Reforming Education," United States Dept. of Education, March 7, 2009  

A newly released survey from the American Association of School Administrators shows that, while the approximately $44 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) stimulus funds thus far allotted for education has helped, many administrators do not think the money has gone toward "investing wisely" as generally defined by the United States Department of Education.

While the federal goals for the money include strengthening education, driving reforms, and improving results for students in preK-12, many of those surveyed said their allotments have gone mainly to saving teaching jobs and filling budget gaps. And while few would argue that these are, in themselves, bad things, they don't seem to be going a long way toward fulfilling the stated goals, according to the report.

The AASA survey was conducted in July and August of this year among 160 school administrators from 37 states completing the 16-question form, with 63 percent of respondents identifying their districts as rural, 28 percent as suburban, and 9 percent as urban. A summary of the primary findings showed that, "while school leaders appreciate the opportunity the federal stimulus funding represents, a lack of flexibility in the funding and a need to fill [government] budget shortfalls are sizeable obstacles that many districts have been unable to overcome in their efforts to save jobs and effect change."

The primary findings of the survey are as follows:

  • A majority of districts have received or expect to soon receive their stimulus funding dollars;
  • More than two-thirds of those districts surveyed said their stimulus funds are only filling budget gaps caused by the economic crisis or creating only marginal growth in funding of school programs aimed at driving reform and improving results;
  • One-time allotments are being used largely to save teaching and staff positions but that even the additional government funds aren't sufficient to save core subject positions; and
  • The stimulus funds come with limited flexibility, increased bureaucracy, and reporting requirements that take away administrators' time from implementing reforms and freedom to experiment with innovative methods and practices to catalyze student improvement.

Explained AASA executive director Daniel A. Domenech, while AASA members appreciate the ARRA and its additional funding, and while most remain committed to fulfilling the long-term goals of the stimulus, most think that "current economic realities have severely limited their ability to use stimulus dollars for anything beyond filling budget holes."

"In light of the tight economic situation at the federal, state and local levels," added AASA President Mark Bieland, "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."

More detailed survey results can be found here.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.

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