Stimulus education programs bring promise and challenges

Our new Stimulus Update looks at the $52 billion in education funding in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA, better known as the stimulus). The education programs, in contrast to most other ARRA funds coming to state and local governments, mainly consist of a two-year increase to existing programs that are heavy on operating, not capital, costs. Some examples are:

  • Increased Pell Grants for college students ($93 million so far in Oklahoma);
  • More funding for special education, education for schools serving low-income students, and vocational rehabilitation ($276 million in Oklahoma); and
  • Expanding Early Head Start programs and serving more children at existing Head Start centers (at least $28 million in Oklahoma).

The temporary nature of the education stimulus funding poses special challenges for school districts. What will happen when this money runs out? Will we be willing to reduce aid to college students, early childhood education, and school spending back to 2008 levels? Should we? The impact of losing stimulus money could be lessened if the state and school districts spend most of their ARRA money on one-time projects, as suggested by the Department of Education. It’s also possible that some of the most successful or most popular federal programs will see continuing federal funding increases beyond 2011.

Even if the funding is temporary, ARRA offers the opportunity to fundamentally improve our education system, as well as maintaining current school programs and further investing in our human and economic development. ARRA is guided by a strong commitment to education reforms. It gives state and local education agencies specific requirements for improving schools that don’t meet standards, improving teacher certification and evaluation, collecting and using data more effectively. Some of the education programs in the stimulus will fund these efforts; other programs require the efforts be made as a condition of receiving funds. The ARRA requirements could result in long-term improvements without long-term cost commitments. Whether they are successful in doing so depends on how seriously state and local educators take the charge for reform and how wisely they use the abundant but temporary resources available to them. We hope you will check out our latest stimulus brief to learn more about these resources.


Paul Shinn

Paul Shinn served as Budget and Tax Senior Policy Analyst with OK Policy from May 2019 until December 2021. Before joining OK Policy, Shinn held budget and finance positions for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the Department of Human Services, the cities of Oklahoma City and Del City and several local governments in his native Oregon. He also taught political science and public administration at the University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, and California State University Stanislaus. While with the Government Finance Officers Association, Paul worked on consulting and research projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and several state agencies and local governments. He also served as policy analyst for CAP Tulsa. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from University of Oklahoma and degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland College Park. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Carmelita.

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