Friday, May 1, 2009

What will stimulus money do for MN education?

A recent Star Tribune article reports that Minnesota will receive $95 million in federal stimulus funds to address the needs of low-income K-12 students. As Title 1 aid, these funds will be used to provide tutoring services, after-school programs and improve professional development. The Minneapolis School District plans to spend approximately $2.2 million of these funds on early childhood education programs. With the largest achievement gap in the nation, proponents of Minnesota's early education efforts argue that programs like Head Start and Ready for K are critical to improving student performance. 

In addition to federal stimulus money, Governor Pawlenty has requested $188 million from the state legislature to carry out his "Transforming Minnesota's System of Education" proposal. The primary objective of this proposal is to improve teacher quality through professional development, staff training, and the recruitment of effective teachers. 

Unfortunately, many are frustrated by the Governor's lack of support for student-specific programs. Angie Eilers of Growth and Justice (a Minneapolis-based think tank) claims that, under the current proposal, few funds are directed at students. At present, the only student-specific expenditure is an intensive summer school program. This program would receive approximately $10 million dollars or a mere 5 percent of the Governor's requested $188 million. Ms. Eilers recommends that additional funds be set aside to promote best-practice teaching strategies and to provide "rich learning environments" in and outside of school.

And what about higher education? Most higher education stimulus money will fund Pell and research grants. In addition, the stimulus will provide $2500 education tax credits and an increase in work study funds. However, a report by the Minnesota Daily asserts that state allocation of these funds is still uncertain. Senator Sandra Pappas, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, warns that the stimulus will not address all of the University of Minnesota's budget shortfalls. 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has set aside $5 billion to reward innovation and high performance in higher education institutions. It's good for morale, but is it fair to expect high performance when funds are in short supply? I guess we'll find out. 

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