Billions in Education Stimulus Funding Ends With 'Fuzzy' Job-Creation Picture
Kathleen S. Tighe, who chairs the Obama administration's Recovery Board and also serves as inspector general of the Education Department, says she wanted answers to the following questions:
How much did the infusion of stimulus funds help schools facing state budget cuts? And were many more jobs created, including teaching positions?
"The jobs picture was fuzzy, to put it mildly," Tighe said in a Nov. 14 blog discussing her auditors' findings. "School officials reported that increased spending had a positive impact, supporting teaching and other personnel jobs in their districts. Nonetheless, our auditors could not establish with any certainty the number of jobs funded in the districts."
Tighe explained that the number of stimulus-funded jobs reported by the 22 school districts her office examined did not always represent new or specific jobs. Some of the districts used stimulus money to replace other funds that had previously supported personnel costs.
Nevertheless, Tighe concluded that the stimulus funding did help:
"In the end, it seems clear that the stimulus and (Education Jobs Funds program) provided critical help to the hard-pressed school districts we reviewed. Beyond that finding, measuring results on issues not related to personnel, such as student academic achievement and graduate rates, proved elusive."
That's because school officials in some of the districts used "multiple funding sources" to pay for activities (new technology, for example) aimed at improving academic achievement. Because the money was mixed together, "officials said they did not attempt to measure results tied to their use of stimulus funds," Tighe said.
The IG's review focused on 22 school districts (out of 13,000 nationwide) in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Those 22 districts received a total of $4.4 Billion in stimulus funds under various grant programs. The 22 school districts ranged in size from about 1,000,000 students in New York City to about 13,000 students in Rapid City, South Dakota. All the school districts were affected by the economic downturn to varying degrees.
Tighe said her office sampled the 22 school districts to "give taxpayers a snapshot of the spending programs."
-- Many officials in the 22 school districts believed they had little or no discretion on how to use the stimulus funds; therefore, they used the money to offset cuts in state or local funding.
-- Although the Recovery Act encouraged investment in infrastructure, only one of the 22 school districts examined by auditors used stimulus funds along with local money and charter bonds to partly fund construction of a new energy-efficient building to replace an old elementary school.
-- Most district officials said they expected to face moderate to significant "funding cliffs" after stimulus funds ran out. A funding cliff occurs when a district is unable to sustain activities or services after stimulus funds are no longer available.
The 2009 Recovery Act (stimulus) included $97 billion for existing and new education-related grant programs. In August 2010, lawmakers passed the Education Jobs Funds program, or Ed Jobs, providing another $10 billion in assistance to fund education jobs.