I was at a meeting recently with several district-level administrators from around the country, and the discussion turned to the current financial situation. Either I’m completely naïve about the realities of school funding, or they’re in denial about the current state of affairs. I still don’t know which is closer to the mark.
Given the state of things, one would expect administrators to look at the $100 billion in stimulus funds as a temporary reprieve: a two-year window to get their houses in order before feeling the full effect of the financial downturn. It should allow for a softer landing. But there was no talk of reducing expenses, finding efficiencies, or eliminating programs. Instead, the primary focus was on using that money for teacher training, with new data systems a secondary interest. There weren’t many specifics available: some wanted to focus teacher training on RTI or on target areas (reading and math), and the discussion around data systems was very general (ie, “must be easy to use,” etc. - nothing that would be helpful in actually building or customizing a system). While the Department of Education has repeatedly said that the stimulus funds are a one-shot deal, these administrators were convinced that all they had to do was show some kind of progress – however they chose to define it – and the money would be renewed. I haven’t heard anything about continuation of funds from any other source, but these folks were certain that as long as they moved the needle in some way, the money would keep flowing. In fairness to them, the guidance for use of the stimulus funds is focused on academic outcomes, and that’s the framework they have to operate in. But the expectation for renewal was totally new: first time I’ve heard that anywhere, yet there was a clear expectation among everyone there that it would happen. And a clear lack of planning for what would happen if it didn’t. Has anyone else seen this sort of thinking? Any signs as to how your districts are dealing with the stimulus money or the financial situation in general?