Money Matters

By Glenn Cook

Waiting to exhale took just four weeks. It will be much longer before public schools can take a deep breath, however.

On Feb. 17, just 28 days after his inauguration, President Obama signed off on a massive economic stimulus package that earmarks more than $100 billion for K-12 schools, universities, and early childhood education. The figure is almost double the current $60 billion discretionary budget of the U.S. Department of Education.

“It’s overwhelming, really, when you look at it closely,” says Michael A. Resnick, associate executive director for the National School Boards Association. “It’s the largest infusion of federal money in history, a number that is truly unprecedented.”

And it could not come at a better time. For this month’s cover package, ASBJ’s editors visited struggling school districts in three of the nation’s hardest-hit states—California, Florida, and Michigan. To school leaders facing budget hardships, the stories are likely to have a familiar, onerous ring: One district is closing nearly half of its schools; another has cut 800 positions, including more than 500 teachers; the third has frozen wages for staff and cut spending in some departments by as much as 70 percent.

It’s examples like these that make Rep. George Miller’s statement about the stimulus ring true. The California Democrat, who serves as chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, says the plan “rightly recognizes that investing in education is not a luxury.”

“It is an economic and education necessity,” Miller says.

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