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Where is My Bailout?

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With literally trillions of dollars being thrown at various industry sectors, stimulus programs and bailout efforts, the resounding chorus from the American public is this: “Where’s my bailout?”

While I can’t speak to where the financial relief is for all Americans, I can go back to my favorite topic and examine how the economic stimulus package impacts Music and Arts education. And the good news is that these programs will be impacted in very real and meaningful ways.

To understand the effect of the economic stimulus on Music and Arts education, we need to start by taking a look at the stimulus law itself.

Economic Stimulus 101
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 was signed into law on February 24, 2009 by President Obama. The overall goals of the ARRA are to stimulate the economy in the short term and invest in education and other essential public services to ensure the long-term economic health of our nation. More than $100 billion is going into education. This is twice as much as this year’s current U.S. Department of Education funding, which is $45 billion. Much of this money is already being distributed to states and local districts as you read this.

According to the Department of Education, there are four guiding principals surrounding the distribution of these funds, which I will list along with my translations:

1. Spend funds quickly to save and create jobs. ARRA funds will be distributed quickly to states, local educational agencies, and other entities in order to avert layoffs, create and save jobs, and improve student achievement. States and agencies in turn are urged to move rapidly to develop plans for using funds, consistent with the law’s reporting and accountability requirements, and to promptly begin spending funds to help drive the nation’s economic recovery.

Translation: Funds are to be used to keep schools from cutting jobs and cutting programs. If you have been threatened with a potential layoff, this money is available to be used to save your job!

2. Improve student achievement through school improvement and reform. ARRA funds should be used to improve student achievement. In addition, the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) provides funds to close the achievement gap, help students from all backgrounds achieve high standards, and address four specific areas that are authorized under bipartisan education legislation including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the America Competes Act of 2007:

  • Making progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities;
  • Establishing pre-K-to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement;
  • Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students, particularly students who are most in need;
  • Providing intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools.

Translation: Use the funds to improve student achievement in core content areas (which includes music and the arts) as well as professional development for teachers and a special emphasis on both students for whom English is a second language and students with disabilities.

3. Ensure transparency, reporting, and accountability. To prevent fraud and abuse, support the most effective uses of ARRA funds, and accurately measure and track results, recipients must publicly report on how funds are used. Due to the unprecedented scope and importance of this investment, ARRA funds are subject to additional and more rigorous reporting requirements than normally apply to grant recipients.

Translation: Be sure you don’t blow this money on stupid stuff.

4. Invest one-time ARRA funds thoughtfully to minimize the “funding cliff.” ARRA represents a historic infusion of funds that is expected to be temporary. Depending on the program, these funds are available for only two or three years. These funds should be invested in ways that do not result in unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires.

Translation: Understand that some of these funds will be a “one-time” injection of resources. Don’t spend money on programs the school will not have the resources to maintain once the money from the stimulus is gone. Expenditures that will have lasting impact should be given priority.

Now, within the ARRA law there are various categories of funding. The ones most relevant to music and arts programs are:

1. State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) $56 billion This is the big magilla! SFSF includes:

  • $39.6 billion for elementary, secondary, postsecondary and early education. This is intended to restore the level of state support for public schools and public postsecondary education institutions in fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011 to the level of state spending for 2008 or 2009, whichever is greater.
  • $8.8 billion for states to use for public safety and other government services, including education and modernization and repair of public school facilities.
  • $5 billion for state incentive grants for key education performance measures. $650 million of this may be used for Local Education Agency initiatives. This is the fund controlled by the Secretary of Education and has been referred to as the “Race to the Top” fund.

2. Title I $13 billion This is the Title I funding as you know it and includes $3 billion for School Improvement Grants.

3. Special Education (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) $12.2 billion Funding includes:

  • $11.3 billion for students ages 6-21.
  • $400 million for preschool children with disabilities.
  • $500 million for families and infants.

4. Education Technology $650 million Funds here may be used to upgrade educational technology.

5. Impact Aid (School Construction) $100 million. Help for immediate construction needs.

An important point to understand is that Governors need to apply for the SFSF funding by describing how the funds will be used and making five required assurances (Allocation Assurances) to the Secretary of Education that, in accordance with various other statutes, the state will:

  1. Maintain fiscal support of elementary, secondary, and higher education through 2011 at pre-crisis levels
  2. Improve teacher effectiveness and equity in teacher distribution.
  3. Establish a longitudinal data system.
  4. Enhance academic standards and assessments.
  5. Support struggling schools.

What’s in it for me?
Here’s the big point: Most of the funds are to be used for purposes as designated by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This is the law that governs public education in the United States. Since Music and Arts education is recognized as a core subject in ESEA, these programs are eligible for support through the ARRA and particularly in the areas of the SFSF, Title I, IDEA and the technology grants. Ask yourself… “How might this apply to me?”

The big mistake many people make is to search for explicit listings of funds dedicated to the arts. Don’t look. You won’t find any. With the authorizing language of ESEA Music and Arts educators should be looking for how these broad categories could support their programs. A few thoughts:

  1. Money to Save Your Job If your job is threatened with being cut, the SFSF funds is your first stop to look for the funding that could save your position!
  2. Professional Development Teacher training to improve skills, conferences, summer workshops, et cetera.
  3. Capital Improvements This may include things like musical instruments, sound reinforcement, methods, and supplies.
  4. Technology Keyboard labs, midi studios, computer music stations, and learning software.
  5. School Improvement Classes that are developed to support educational goals like student retention and cross curricular integration.
  6. Data Gathering (my favorite) Support for better data gathering and longitudinal analysis. Maybe we will finally figure out who has music classes and who doesn’t.

The point is we, as Music and Arts educators, need to approach everything with the idea in mind that this funding applies to our subject area just as much as it applies to any other core subject area unless there are specific qualifications that would exclude us from a funding pool.

More than $50 billion is being pushed into the education system right now… with the remainder being pushed out in the next 12 months. For many states this is a windfall of money. This is because the formula that is being used to allocate the money to states school districts is not based on need! Most of the funds will be allocated based on the current Title I and IDEA funding formulas, as well as school-aged population in a community. Even though this is the formula, the SFSF funds are “are not subject to Title I program requirements.” No budget shortfall in education in your state? No problem! Here’s hundreds of millions of dollars for you anyway! This means in many districts, administrators are going to be looking for ways to utilize the money in appropriate ways.

If I were you… whether your job is at risk, you are interested in outfitting your department with new method books, instruments, technology, or you want some new training to sharpen your teaching skills, I would be ready to make the case for our how these funds could positively impact you and your program.

As an educator, this is your stimulus! But it is not going to be handed to you. You have to go get it!

Authors note: Have a specific question about the economic stimulus package? Want to know how much stimulus money your district will be getting? E-mail me atbob@artsedresearch.org.

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