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Friday, August 13, 2010

Special Ed and the Stimulus, Continued

An earlier post noted that special education did not benefit as much from the stimulus as one might think. A few weeks ago, Thompson reported [emphasis added]:
U.S. Department of Education officials have urged states and districts to show "courage" in using stimulus funds to hire personnel and alleviate the impact of hundreds of thousands of predicted staff layoffs in the 2010-11 school year.

The stance is decidedly less cautious than the tone Education Department (ED) officials struck when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was unveiled last year. At that time, officials warned states and districts to make strategic investments to avoid a "funding cliff" when ARRA funds dry up in 2011. There were also admonitions to use Title I ARRA funds in a way that did not supplant state and local efforts.

Those concerns haven't gone away. But with anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000 educator jobs projected to be lost due to budget shortfalls, ED has begun to tweak its message.

"When this ARRA money came out last year to address the economic crisis, I think most of us were at least hopeful that the economy would have turned around a little more than it has," said Maura Policelli, ED's senior advisor for external affairs, during a June webinar entitled "Strategic Use of Title I and IDEA: How to Maximize ARRA, FY09 & FY10 Funds." "But it hasn't, and we're hearing more and more about layoffs."

While many districts have invested in one-time expenditures like equipment and technology to avoid the funding cliff, Policelli urged listeners "to use ARRA funds to support primarily the staffing needs for your Title I and IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] programs."

"We really hope that you will do your best to see how these funds can help alleviate layoffs and the budget crises that your districts or states are facing," she said. "And that does require some courage because it does involve the possible risk of investing in staff that you may not be able to retain in the 2011-12 school year." Policelli offered some examples of appropriate strategies for districts interested in hiring staff without running afoul of supplanting rules, which require federal funds to supplement, not supplant, activities previously funded with state or local resources.