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Improving Teacher Performance Assessments

October 26, 2010

The Obama Administration has repeatedly stressed the importance of measuring teacher effectiveness as part of a reform agenda for K-12 education. In both the Blueprint for Education Reform - Obama’s platform for K-12 education policy - and subsequent policy proposals, the Administration has made clear that they want to strengthen the federal government’s role in supporting teacher evaluation systems. The Administration’s focus on teacher evaluation makes last week’s report, Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness, by the Center for American Progress especially timely.  It discusses how rigorous teacher performance assessments could be used to measure teachers’ success in the classroom, including an in-depth look at one approach to improving the quality of teachers in every classroom, the Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium.

As the Consortium implements pilot programs and stakeholders begin to better understand how to assess teachers, the Obama Administration and state legislators should take note. States and school districts can use data from the assessments to improve teacher preparation and professional development programs. The federal government can use the data to target grant funds through new or existing federal programs to support effective teacher training and development programs.

The report by Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond describes current efforts among 20 states to create a common teacher assessment system that could be used for teacher certification and evaluation. The teacher performance assessments (TPAs) used to evaluate teachers would be portfolio-based, similar to the National Board Certification process. Teachers would be assessed through classroom videos, teacher self-reflections, content reviews, and student and teacher feedback combined with data on student performance on different types of tests. Pilot programs began in the 2010-11 school year and will be scaled up over the coming years. By 2015, the consortium hopes to have nationally available TPA systems for initial teacher licensing, professional licensing, and advanced certification. Current teacher in-take and evaluation systems do not provide enough information to properly assess teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, but the consortium hopes that with more advanced assessments, principals and other instructional leaders could better place, support, and reward teachers.

Not only can states and school districts use these assessments to make staffing decisions, but experience with the National Board Certification process suggests that teachers can also use the self-assessment process to improve their practice in the classroom. Because the program requires teachers to self-reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses, many who have gone through the National Board Certification program have used this process to improve their teaching strategies and be more responsive to the needs of students. Aggregated results from these evaluations can also help inform professional development and teacher preparation programs.

Darling-Hammond’s report has important implications for the Obama Administration’s proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as described in the Blueprint for Education Reform. The Blueprint would attempt to streamline the teacher quality grant programs under current law under a broader, more flexible umbrella program. At present, there are 15 federal programs targeted at improving the quality of teachers in K-12 classrooms and making the teaching profession more attractive to both current and potential new teachers. In fiscal year 2010, these programs cost a total of $3.9 billion, or 5.9 percent of the U.S. Department of Education’s discretionary budget. The Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program, for example, is the largest federal program devoted to K-12 teachers. The $2.9 billion program provides states with formula grants to implement activities that increase the number of highly qualified teachers, principals, and assistant principals in high-need classrooms and schools. Local educational agencies (LEAs) can use funds for activities to improve teacher quality, including implementing and improving teacher assessment programs.

Under the Blueprint, federal support for K-12 teacher programs would be reorganized, combining programs with similar purposes under a few large pools of money. The Effective Teachers and Leaders formula grant program would replace Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, combining the program with others focused on strengthening teacher effectiveness. The Effective Teachers and Leaders grants would be flexible, so that states and school districts can use funds as they see fit to meet the needs of students in their communities.

As the TPA pilot programs progress and stakeholders better understand how to assess teachers, the Obama Administration and state legislators should pay close attention. States and school districts can use the TPA systems to develop teacher preparation and professional development programs, collect quality data on beginning teacher effectiveness, and create coherent assessment systems for all stages of a teacher’s career. The federal government could use new or existing teacher quality grant funds to support these assessments and the training and development programs they show to be effective.

Check back with Ed Money Watch for updates on the progress of these assessments and the data they provide on teacher effectiveness.

Friday News Roundup: Week of October 18-22

October 22, 2010

At Ed Money Watch, we discuss and analyze major issues affecting education funding. In our Friday News Roundup, we try to highlight interesting stories that might otherwise get overlooked. These stories emphasize how federal and state policy changes can affect local schools and districts.

West Virginia Schools Waiting on Federal Education Jobs Fund Monies

Louisiana Board of Regents Recommends $35 million in cuts from State College and University System

Recently Passed California Budget Includes Increases for Higher Education Funding

Some New York Charter Schools are Saying “No” to Federal Race to the Top Funds

West Virginia Schools Waiting on Federal Education Jobs Fund Monies
The West Virginia state legislature has not yet appropriated $55 million in Education Jobs Funds to its 55 county school districts, preventing the schools from spending the federal funds quickly. Although the state has not had to lay off many teachers, it plans to use the new federal funds to reimburse school districts for costs associated with tutoring, teacher training, after-school and summer school programs, and preschool programs. However, districts are reluctant to begin making such expenditures until the state legislature guarantees that the funds will be available for reimbursement through an official appropriation. Until an appropriation is made, school districts will have to borrow against their future budgets to cover the costs or face cash flow problems. More here...

Louisiana Board of Regents Recommends $35 million in cuts from State College and University System
The Louisiana Board of Regents recently submitted a plan to Governor Bobby Jindal to cut $35 million from the state’s higher education budget. These cuts are on top of the $280 million cut from the systems budget since 2008 and are part of $108 million in total cuts that must be made from the state’s 2011 fiscal budget to make up for deficits in 2010. The Louisiana State University system will bear the brunt of the cuts – 61 percent of $21.2 million. Each campus in the system will lose 3.7 percent of its current operating budget. However, some of the cuts will be offset by increased tuition and fee revenue due to expanding enrollment. More here...

Recently Passed California Budget Includes Increases for Higher Education Funding
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a state budget that would increase state funding for higher education. The budget increases funding for the state’s University of California system by 12 percent over fiscal year 2010 levels and the state’s California State University system by 11 percent. However, these increases do not cover the losses either system sustained in fiscal year 2010, when their budgets were both cut by 20 percent over fiscal year 2009 levels. And, both newly-enacted budgets are also predicated on increases in fees for both systems ranging from 10 to 15 percent to make up for continuing gaps. As a result, tuition will continue to rise at schools in both systems. More here...

Some New York Charter Schools are Saying “No” to Federal Race to the Top Funds
Some charter schools, particularly in Albany, New York, are deciding not to participate in Race to the Top, a federally funded competitive grant program through which New York was awarded $700 million for reform activities. Signing on to receive the federal funds would mean sacrificing autonomy in hiring and firing teachers for many of these charter schools. And the amount of money they would receive – as little as $9,000 each year – does not justify the trade off they say. However, charter schools elsewhere in the state will participate in the program as an effort to encourage reform statewide. Additionally, some charter advocates believe that the activities supported by the Race to the Top money will benefit modestly successful charters that don’t already have well-developed academic and staff-performance evaluation systems. More here...

FEBP Releases Updates to National Rankings Pages

October 21, 2010

This week, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative – the Federal Education Budget Project (FEBP) – released updates to its National Rankings pages. The updated pages provide in-depth analysis of the most up-to-date data on per-pupil spending, student demographics, and student achievement in the 50 states and the District of Columbia and how these factors interact.

The state rankings pages use FEBP data to rank the states based on 2008 data on per-pupil expenditures, student poverty rates, school finance inequity, and nationally defined graduation rates, and 2009 data on student proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 4th and 8th grade math and reading tests. The FEBP team analyzed these rankings to draw conclusions about the relationships between these indicators.

We noticed a few overall trends in the updated data. First and foremost, region played an important role in all of the data we analyzed, creating significant disparities between students’ educational experiences in different parts of the country.1 For example, average per pupil expenditure in 2008 was highest in the Northeastern United States at $14,965. In the same year, the Northeastern states also had the lowest average student poverty rate at 13.3 percent. On average, a higher percent of students scored proficient or above on the 2009 NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and 4th grade math tests in the Northeast than in any other region. And the average graduation rate was 78.2 percent in 2008, behind only the Midwest where the graduation rate was 82.1 percent.

In the South, on the other hand, the average per pupil expenditure in 2008 was $8,910 – the lowest in the country – and 19.9 percent of students in the region were living in poverty, the highest proportion in the country. The percentage of students scoring proficient or above on the 2009 NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math tests was lower in the South than in any other region of the country. The South had the lowest graduation rate in the country at 71.7 percent in 2008.

Though per pupil funding and poverty are not the only factors that affect student achievement, it’s impossible to ignore the relationship between these factors and NAEP proficiency and graduation rates in the Northeast and South. In fact, data for all 50 states suggest a general trend that students in states with higher per pupil expenditures and lower student poverty rates perform better on the NAEP tests and graduate from high school at higher rates.

However, there are a few exceptions. For example, Rhode Island ranked sixth in per pupil spending, but 34th in 8th grade reading proficiency and 37th in 8th grade math proficiency. On the other hand, South Dakota ranked 42nd in per pupil expenditure, but ninth in 8th grade reading proficiency and eighth in 8th grade math proficiency. These outliers suggest that student outcomes are not entirely dependent on per pupil spending – it also matters how the money is spent. But few states manage to overcome the influence poverty has on student performance. Most students in states with high student poverty rates do not perform well on NAEP tests. Kentucky, which had the seventh highest poverty rate in the country in 2008, ranked 11th in 4th grade reading and 19th in 8th grade reading. While the state did not perform exceptionally well, it did better than any other state where student poverty was above 19 percent.

The National Rankings pages illuminate many trends in the education data that are impossible to identify when looking at each state individually. In fact, the data suggest that students’ educational experiences are largely determined by where they live. Students in the Northeast and Midwest experience lower rates of poverty and higher per-pupil expenditures and tend to score proficient or above on the NAEP tests at higher rates than their peers in the West and South. However, the interesting cases are those that buck the national trends – those states where per pupil expenditures are low or poverty is high and students still perform well on the NAEP tests. These examples deserve further analysis to discover if there are ways other states can learn to better leverage per pupil dollars or overcome poverty and improve student success.




1 Regions. Northeast: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont. Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin. South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia. West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.

Afterschool Meal Program Could Reach All 50 States

October 19, 2010

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the nation’s poverty rate had reached 14.3 percent, the third consecutive increase in the poverty rate. This means that 43.6 million people in America are living in poverty and many of them are children. The federal government provides several programs to help support children living in poverty, including Title I Education for the Disadvantaged grants, the School Lunch Program, and McKinney-Vento Homeless Education program. But one rarely discussed program is becoming more important than ever – the Child and Adult Care Food Program’s At-Risk Afterschool Meals program.

This relatively new program, started by the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000, provides complete meals to students in afterschool programs where at least 50 percent of local school children are eligible for free and reduced price lunches. Unlike the school lunch program, for which some children pay a reduced or full price, afterschool meals are provided free of charge to all students. For many of these students, the meal they receive at their afterschool program is the last meal they eat for the day. The program is meant to combat child hunger and obesity by providing quality meals to students who otherwise would have limited access to food after school and to attract students to afterschool programs that offer additional academic support.

Currently, the federal government has selected only 13 states and the District of Columbia to participate in this program. These states include Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. However, the federal government also provides funding for snacks – which are significantly smaller than whole meals – for at-risk children in afterschool programs in all 50 states.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), afterschool programs served 19 million federally subsidized meals to students in 2009. And an Associated Press report says 49,000 children participate in the program nationally, which will cost the federal government $8 million from 2009 to 2013. The federal government reimburses afterschool programs $2.72 for every meal they serve. State and local funds are used to make up the rest of the cost of meals. DC’s after school meal program, for example, serves 10,000 children daily and will cost the city about $5.7 million in 2010 on top of the federal funds.

But a bill currently being discussed in Congress could dramatically expand the reach of the afterschool meal program. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which has been the subject of much debate and negotiation in the House (though it easily passed the Senate a few months ago), would expand the afterschool meals program to all 50 states. The CBO estimates that such an expansion would increase the number of meals served annually to 40 million by 2015, from the current 19 million. By 2020, 50 million afterschool meals would be served to at-risk children, dramatically lowering the number of students that leave school hungry. This expansion would cost an additional $215 million in federal funds from 2011 to 2015.

For students that spend significant parts of their days at school – some even from 8:00am to 6:30pm – it makes good sense to provide them with nutritious, high quality meals throughout the day, including dinner. The 13 states and DC where this program currently exists are finding at least anecdotal evidence of success for the program. Now, it’s up to Congress to find the political will to pass the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act and expand the program to all 50 states.

Friday News Roundup: Week of October 11-15

October 15, 2010

At Ed Money Watch, we discuss and analyze major issues affecting education funding. In our Friday News Roundup, we try to highlight interesting stories that might otherwise get overlooked. These stories emphasize how federal and state policy changes can affect local schools and districts.

Federal Funds Arrive Too Late in New Jersey School Districts to Avert Layoffs

Pennsylvania Senate Approves School Employee Pension Overhaul

Michigan Governor Vetoes Stimulus Fund Distribution Formula

Federal Funds Arrive Too Late in New Jersey School Districts to Avert Layoffs
New Jersey received $268 million in federal funds through the Education Jobs Fund of 2010, but officials say it arrived too late to save many teacher jobs in the current 2010-11 school year. School districts in New Jersey received the money in late September with instructions from the state’s Department of Education to save the money for the 2011-12 school year. However, school district officials are concerned that the state will further cut state funds due to the presence of the additional federal funds, making it difficult to rehire or retain existing staff with the funds. In that case, officials say they might have to lay off staff despite the federal stimulus funds. More here…

Pennsylvania Senate Approves School Employee Pension Overhaul
The Pennsylvania State Senate this week approved a bill that would overhaul the pension systems for state and public school employees. The bill would reduce future pension benefits by 25 percent, bringing them below 2001 levels. The reduction is intended to help the state avoid an upcoming spike in pension costs that would complicate state and school district budgets. A different version of the bill was already approved in the State House of Representatives, but because significant changes were made to the Senate passed version, it will have to be approved again by the House before it goes to the governor’s desk. More here…

Michigan Governor Vetoes Stimulus Fund Distribution Formula
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm this week vetoed a bill that would have determined the formula used to distribute federal stimulus funds from the Education Jobs Fund of 2010 to school districts. Under the formula passed by the legislature, each school district in Michigan would have received $154 per student, plus an additional $23 to $46 per pupil depending on existing spending levels in each district. School districts that currently spend less per pupil would have received a higher amount than those that spend more. Governor Granholm rejected the formula, citing guidance from the U.S. Department of Education stating that funds must be distributed using a needs-based formula. A new formula will likely give an even greater share of funds to school districts where current spending is low. More here and here

Briefly Noted

  • Nebraska education commissioner asks teachers to take one or two furlough days before the end of 2010.

Paygo Won't Affect Higher Education Tax Credit

October 14, 2010

Yesterday, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a report on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a $2,500 income tax credit for college students’ higher education expenses that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The report is the Obama Administration’s opening salvo in the push to make the tax credit permanent. Under current law, the credit is only a temporary expansion through 2010 of the less-generous Hope tax credit. There has been a flurry of media attention over the report, including extensive information about the number of people claiming the credit, their incomes, and the value of the benefit. But one point made in an article in The Hill stood out among all the rest. The article states that if Congress makes the tax credit permanent, it “would cost $58 billion over 10 years… [and] would have to be offset under pay-as-you-go rules.”

That last part about the pay-as-you-go rules has caused confusion and a little bit of panic within the education policy community. Extending the American Opportunity Tax Credit would reduce revenues by about $11 billion a year compared to $5 billion a year under the permanent Hope tax credit. If Congress offset that cost, lawmakers would have to raise other taxes or cut spending by the same amount. That could put other education programs on the chopping block, as was the case when Democratic leaders proposed rescinding funds for the Race to The Top competitive grant program to offset the Education Jobs Fund enacted this summer.

Yet there’s absolutely no chance that the cost of making the America Opportunity Tax Credit permanent will have to be “offset under pay-as-you-go rules.” Paygo is perhaps the most misunderstood part of the federal budget process and it trips up a lot of education reporters, advocates, and even U.S. Senators.

The first thing to remember is that there are now two types of Paygo rules – the first is a rule that the House of Representatives and the Senate have imposed on themselves, and the second is a federal law signed in 2010 that the executive branch enforces. There are some key similarities and differences between the two types of Paygo rules which are briefly discussed below. But keep in mind that both types of Paygo rules can be waived or turned off without consequence whenever Congress chooses to do so.

Both Paygo rules are a means to prevent Congress from passing legislation that would increase the budget deficit over the next five and 10 years. The rules apply to bills that affect taxes or mandatory spending (like student loans and part of the Pell Grant program) but not annual appropriations bills. By that exemption alone, nearly all federal education programs are excluded from Paygo. Simply put, Paygo requires that Congress “pay for” new spending or tax cuts – but not appropriations bills – by reducing spending somewhere else or increasing taxes on something else to avoid adding to the deficit over the next five and 10 years

What happens if a piece of tax legislation comes before the Congress that does increase the deficit? Under the first type of Paygo rule, any Representative in the House or any Senator can raise a point of order because the legislation violates Paygo. But any member of Congress can also move to waive Paygo so long as a majority agrees in the House and a two-thirds majority agrees in the Senate. Essentially, Congress can opt to ignore the first type of Paygo rule as they see fit.

Under the second type of Paygo rule – the one in federal law – once a bill is signed into law, the amount by which it increases the deficit is added to a “scorecard” that the Office of Management and Budget tallies. At the end of each congressional session (effectively each year), if the scorecard has a balance on it, the President must issue an across-the-board cut in federal spending programs by the same amount, excluding all programs subject to appropriations and approximately 150 other programs including the Pell Grant. But Congress can also write into any piece of legislation that violates the Paygo law something like this: “Any balances that are placed on the Paygo scorecard as a result of this legislation are hereby set to zero.” That is, Congress can always change the Paygo law, even on a case by case basis to avoid an across-the-board cut in spending.

If Congress extends the American Opportunity Tax Credit it would likely add the measure to a massive “tax extenders” bill when lawmakers return after the November 2nd election for a lame duck session. That bill is expected to include an extension of some or all of the expiring 2001 and 2003 Bush era tax cuts and probably dozens more expiring tax benefits. The cost of the legislation in terms of forgone revenue under Paygo will be at least $300 billion a year. You can bet Congress won’t try to offset that amount with spending cuts. Instead they’ll include those magic words to just turn off Paygo.

Still Trying to Measure School Funding Equity

October 12, 2010

Equitable funding for public schools is an often discussed topic in education policy circles. Every state uses a different school funding formula for its K-12 schools and many of them result in an inequitable distribution of funds across school districts and schools. On top of that, local funding, which is often based on property tax collections, also vary widely across school districts, adding greater funding disparities. Today, researchers from Rutgers University and the Education Law Center released a report that grades or ranks every state on four different measures of education funding “fairness.” However, the report seems to obscure the issue of funding fairness by focusing on funding levels instead.

Many entities release estimates that try to measure or quantify inequities in school funding. The U.S. Department of Education produces an annual school finance equity factor; Ed Week creates an annual weighted measure of per pupil revenue; and the Education Trust publishes estimates of funding gaps within states based on poverty. Each of these measures lacks either the transparency or consistency to paint a coherent picture of school funding equity.

The Rutgers and Education Law Center report, on the other hand, provides four complex measures of school funding which, when combined, are supposed to estimate the degree to which school funding is “fair” in each state. These measures include “funding level,” an estimate of per pupil funding in each state; “funding distribution,” a comparison of per pupil funding in districts with different poverty rates; “effort,” the ratio of per pupil funding to per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in each state; and “coverage” a measure of both the percent of school age children that attend public school in each state and the household income ratio between private and public school students.

The first measure, called “funding level,” is arguably the most complicated measure in the report. It ranks every state based on a predicted per pupil funding level. The predicted funding level is determined using a regression equation that adjusts the state’s actual funding levels for local factors like wage variation and population density, producing an estimate of what that state’s per pupil funding level would be without any of that variation. The regression also adjusts each state’s funding level to assume a 16 percent student poverty rate. In other words, it creates a per pupil estimate for each state’s school funding mechanism (both local and state funding) without the influence of any state or local characteristics, making each state’s funding level comparable at a poverty rate of 16 percent.

According to the “funding level” estimate , Wyoming’s funding mechanism provides the highest level of per pupil funding in the country -- $16,947 per pupil – after removing the influence of local and state factors. In actuality, Wyoming’s per pupil funding averaged over 2005 to 2007 was $16,238, not far off from the estimate. Due to its high predicted per pupil funding level, Wyoming is ranked first. New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Vermont, and New York round out the top five ranking states in terms of predicted per pupil spending. However, actual average per pupil expenditures in DC, Vermont and New York were significantly different than their predicted per pupil expenditures. This means that variations in local characteristics in these states like poverty and wages have a significant effect on per pupil spending.

Tennessee, on the other hand, came in last in predicted per pupil funding at $6,839 per pupil, meaning that Tennessee’s funding mechanism produces the lowest funding per pupil even after removing state and local influences. Tennessee’s actual per pupil funding - $6,966 – was also close to its predicted level. Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, and Mississippi round out the bottom five.

Alaska had the greatest disparity between its predicted and actual per pupil funding levels, $12,504 and $14,764, respectively. It is ranked 6th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of predicted per pupil expenditure.

The Rutgers/Education Law Center report takes a rigorous approach to comparing per pupil funding by adjusting for variations in local and state characteristics with a regression analysis. However, by rewarding states with the highest predicted funding level, the report automatically assumes that more money is always better. The report reinforces this idea by rewarding states that spend greater proportions of their GDP on education. However, years of education research suggest that it’s not just how much money you spend but how you spend it.

Admittedly, the report does go on to determine which states progressively fund districts with higher poverty levels and which states serve a higher proportion of their school age children in public schools. But overall, the focus seems to be on which states spend more, rather than which states spend that money most effectively, particularly for its low-income students. Clearly, we still have some work to do on how we measure and quantify school funding fairness.

Friday News Roundup: Week of October 4-8

October 8, 2010

At Ed Money Watch, we discuss and analyze major issues affecting education funding. In our Friday News Roundup, we try to highlight interesting stories that might otherwise get overlooked. These stories emphasize how federal and state policy changes can affect local schools and districts.

Colorado Universities Submit Budget Plans Including Big Tuition Increases

University of Minnesota Prepares to Request Funding Increase

California Budget Deal: Good News for Higher Ed, Bad News for K-12

Colorado Universities Submit Budget Plans Including Big Tuition Increases
Colorado’s public colleges and universities this week submitted tentative budget plans for the 2011-12 academic year to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Colorado law requires public institutions of higher education to submit the plans, called financial accountability plans (FAP), if they plan to raise tuition by more than 9 percent in a given year. All but one of Colorado’s public colleges and universities submitted plans to raise tuition above 9 percent – and up to 25 percent – in the coming academic year. Higher education officials say that to avoid such extreme tuition increases, the state must find a way to increase support for higher education – despite the state’s $1.1 billion budget deficit. More here…

University of Minnesota Prepares to Request Funding Increase
The University of Minnesota is preparing its annual budget request to the state, and officials announced this week that the request will include an increase in state support for the state’s public university system. Officials say they will request $1.2 billion for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, about a $50 million increase per year over current funding levels. However, the request is still below what the university received in fiscal year 2007. The state is facing a $5 billion budget gap for the fiscal 2012-13 biennium, and lawmakers say that an increase in state aid for the university is unlikely despite the request. University officials say that alternatives to an increase in state aid are tuition increases or staff reductions, both of which they’ve had to turn to in past years after previous reductions in state aid. More here…

California Budget Deal: Good News for Higher Ed, Bad News for K-12
California lawmakers have finally reached a deal on the state budget – 100 days after the July 1st start of the current 2011 state fiscal year. The budget plan, which passed the State Assembly early Friday morning and is expected to pass the State Senate by the end of the day, is a mixed bag for education. It would lower state support for public K-12 education by $3 billion statewide. More than half of that cut would be made by delaying regular payments to school districts until next fiscal year. This will likely leave school districts scrambling to cover payroll each month, and may mean that many districts will have to borrow money to keep schools running. On the other hand, the budget deal would provide both the University of California and the California State University systems with $200 million more than they received in fiscal year 2010. This would restore some previous cuts and allow for expanding enrollment. More here…

OMB Releases Updated Guidance on Stimulus Reporting Requirements

October 7, 2010

Since the President signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) more than a year and a half ago, recipients of the spending portion (as opposed to tax benefits) of the $862 billion in federal funds distributed under the law have been required to fulfill strict reporting requirements. Though these reporting requirements have been somewhat controversial, they represent one of the most significant efforts undertaken by the government to track federal funds. Late last month, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released new guidance on those requirements to make them more clear and to ensure the information that gets collected is more complete and transparent. OMB also confirmed that new federal funds provided through the recently passed Education Jobs Fund are subject to the same reporting requirements as ARRA funds.

At Ed Money Watch, we’ve had concerns about ARRA reporting all along. Thus far, we have found that the current reporting rules do not allow for detailed information on local uses of funds and provide inadequate space for state government’s to report their data. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has further weakened the reporting system by providing states with generic language intended to simplify the reporting process. These issues mean that much of the data on ARRA spending reported by states and local school districts lacks the level of specificity originally intended.

The new OMB guidance addresses many of the issues we’ve noticed in the past. While the new guidance does not require every sub-recipient (school districts and institutions of higher education) to submit their own detailed reporting information, it does require states to collect and report this information as a prime recipient under the “Quarterly Activities/Project Description for Prime and Sub-recipients” field. As we under stand it, this means that the public will be able to better tell how ARRA funds under a specific program are being used across the state. However, it will still be difficult under the revised rules to determine how each sub-recipient is using its specific funds. It is also unclear whether the current reporting system provides enough space for prime recipients (state governments) to report this information.

We are also glad to see that the new guidance strengthens quality control measures in the reporting system. Currently, all federal departments reviews recipient reported data for the programs they oversee. The new guidance instructs these agencies (like ED) to label reports as having “Significant Errors” or “Material Omissions” if descriptions of awards are misleading or unclear. Additionally, grantees submitting incomplete or misleading reports would be required to correct them after the fact.

Finally, the new guidance warns agencies like ED that distribute the ARRA funds against encouraging grantees to use generic language for their narrative descriptions. Prime recipients (states) would be required to write more detailed and specific descriptions of their projects, providing more useful information about how ARRA funds are being spent. According to OMB, members of the general public should be able to understand the grant’s purpose, activities, and outcomes through the description provided under the “Award Description” and “Quarterly Activities/Project Description for Prime and Sub-recipients” fields.

While the new OMB guidance addresses many of the issues we highlighted in the reporting of stimulus spending data, it still is imperfect for reporting information on education spending. School districts and institutions of higher education had almost total control over how the ARRA education funds were actually spent. Requiring states, as the prime recipients, to do the bulk of the reporting has obscured important details on how sub-recipients spent the funds. And with the new Education Jobs Fund, which provides an additional $10 billion that will be tracked through this system, we will likely lose more valuable information due to this flawed system. That said, the new guidance does provide some assurance that state-level reporting will include more and better information on ARRA and Education Jobs Fund spending.

Check back with Ed Money Watch as states begin to tackle this newest iteration of federal ARRA reporting.

Credit Reform Act: Another Budget Loophole

  • By
  • Jason Delisle,
  • New America Foundation
October 4, 2010 |

More news of a weak U.S. economy keeps rolling in. The Obama Administration and many in Congress are calling for a fresh round of stimulus spending. But Washington’s $1.3 trillion annual deficit coupled with a fiscally weary electorate means the stimulus advocates may finally be out of room to spend. Unless, of course, they take advantage of a major accounting loophole that can make the costs of federal programs virtually disappear.

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