Helping Students, Saving Jobs
A summary of the quarterly reports indicates that states have spent about $14 billion of the total aid money so far. Most of that money has gone to saving and creating education jobs. According to the reports, more than 335,000 education jobs have been funded by this program - and that only counts jobs created before September 30. That number includes a wide variety of jobs in K-12 and public higher education, including classroom teachers, district administrators, counselors, secretaries, school nurses and more.
Only about $600 million has gone to other expenses, such as outside staff, operating expenses and miscellaneous purchases. The quarterly reports break down some of this spending on the district level. About $50 million in special education aid has gone toward school placement and tuition for students with special needs. Another $13 million in Title I funding for disadvantaged students was spent on classroom technology, such as computers, software and electronic whiteboards, as well as technology training.
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A Difficult Reporting Process
In a press conference last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan bragged that the funding program is progressing with 'unprecedented transparency.' Yet the reporting process has been plagued with inconsistencies. Aid-recipients, be they states, school districts, or other institutions, all self-report and even though they're using the same form, they're not offering the same information. Many have simply left out key details like program descriptions or the types of jobs that are being funded. Others have committed significant computational errors. A Chicago Tribune report pointed out that in some districts, the number of jobs Illinois claims to have created or saved outnumbers the total number of staff in those districts.
The inconsistencies, however, appear to be more a result of user error than deliberate deception. The Obama administration only provided one form for all projects, whether you're building roads or buying textbooks. This may simplify the process, but it can also leave out important specific questions. There are also many fill-in-the-blank questions on the form that are open to interpretation. For example, some states simply reported the total number of education jobs created with stimulus money, whereas others broke the numbers down by type of job, such as teachers, administrators and counselors.
Although the quality of the available information may be questionable, the federal government has followed through with their promise to make it easily accessible. They've set up Recovery.gov, where interested citizens can 'track the money' by area, project type and more. The recent education data is also available in this downloadable PDF from the Department of Education's website.