How the ARRA Times Change

Just a few short months ago, educators with brimming with enthusiasm about the potential economic stimulus funding would offer.  We talked about those new programs that could be pursued.  We discussed how existing efforts could be broadened and expanded.  We dreamed about the possibilities of doing using the “startup” money found in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to do new things designed to spark innovation in the classroom and long-term academic improvement in the student.

Lately, reality has set in.  We’re seeing that most education stimulus moneys are likely going to pay for existing programs and existing teacher salaries, not to buy new books or acquire some new technology that could be the missing link between proficient and not.  And as the folks over at Politics K-12 have been reporting, some states are really struggling to get in those basic applications demonstrating how the State Fiscal Stabilization Funds (the $44 billion that is already at the mid-point of distribution to the states) is being spend by SEAs across the nation.  With state budgets on a steady decline, state decisionmakers are having difficulty determining which existing programs warrant the life preserver that is ARRA, particularly those efforts aimlessly floating through our K-12 systems.
Before the stimulus legislation was signed into law, states like Virginia got even more ambitious, developing websites before the ARRA money was even signed into law, soliciting proposals and applications from organizations and individuals across the state focused on how they could use stimulus dollars to boost the economy and make a difference for the state’s long-term prosperity.  Other states followed suit, and in education, many a school district was asked to develop their wish lists on how the money would be spent.
Now, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is sending the following to all those not-for-profits, corporations, and individuals who had ideas on how this new money could be used in innovative and new ways, adhering to both the letter and the intent of ARRA:

Thank you for your interest in funding available to Virginia through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Both transparency and accountability are core requirements of ARRA-and I am pleased to update you on the Commonwealth’s progress on projects and proposals related to the Recovery Act.

 

As you may know, my administration launched stimulus.virginia.gov earlier this year to gather project ideas from individuals, groups, and localities for potential funding through ARRA. Between February 10 and the March 6 submission deadline, more than 9,100 project proposals totaling $465.6 billion were suggested through the website. Since then, these proposals have been sorted and sent to the appropriate Cabinet Secretariat for evaluation.

 

Virginia‘s General Assembly incorporated ARRA program funding that is administered by agencies into the state budget and directed it to specific activities. The Recovery Act alsoincreased funding to existing federal programs rather than allowing states to fund projects from a large discretionary fund. As a result, what little discretionary ARRA funding that existed was used by the General Assembly to address Virginia‘s projected budget shortfall. While these decisions around ARRA and the state budget-which I signed into law on March 30-are continuing to ease the economic downturn in the Commonwealth, they also mean there is no discretionary funding available to dedicate to specific projects.

 

Currently, under each Cabinet Secretariat
, state agencies are working with their federal counterparts to implement ARRA funding for programs ranging from education to 
water quality, totransportation, to energy. These programs require that all project ideas meet specific criteria and be formally submitted through traditional federal funding processes. In most cases, these processes are now complete and work is ready to begin. Most of the projects that were funded via traditional federal measures were submitted as a project idea.

 

Although there are many other project ideas that could contribute to our economic recovery, a number of proposals we’ve received-including private business investment and tax reduction-fall outside the scope of ARRA funding provided to the Commonwealth.

 

I strongly encourage you to monitor the stimulus.virginia.gov website for information on projects being funded by the ARRA and to explore potential opportunities through the competitive grants process. Some projects submitted through stimulus.virginia.gov not selected for ARRA funds may be eligible to apply for a competitive grant directly from a federal agency.

 

Thank you again for your input. I always appreciate hearing from citizens of the Commonwealth and will take your thoughts and proposals into consideration as we work to get our economy back on track through ARRA. Please do not hesitate to contact me via my web form, and find out more about my initiatives on my web site at www.governor.virginia.gov.

 

Sincerely,

Timothy M. Kaine

Governo
r of the 
Commonwealth of Virginia

Please note that the bold for emphasis is not coming from Eduflack, it is coming from Governor Kaine himself.  In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the economic stimulus package does not provide for any discretionary funding for specific projects.  That’s policy-speak for every dime of money is being plowed into existing programs already codified on the books.  In education, that means that the same programs that Virginians to a whopping 34 percent proficiency on the eighth grade NAEP are the same programs now gaining additional funding (and expected to propel us into the promise land of student success and opportunity).
It is hard to find fault with just Kaine here.  He is a lame-duck governor, with his term completed in six short months.  He was given a bad budget and had to do the best with what he could, both in original negotiations and in the veto session.  And it is a shame that a governor who entered office three and a half years ago with a strong plan for universal preK has been stymied every step of the way by a part-time Legislature that just didn’t agree, and then was hamstrung by the bottom falling out of his state’s budget, particularly those tax receipts that looked so rosy at the start of the term.
 
I recognize this is only Virginia, but these decisions are likely being made by states across the union.  New money is being pumped into the status quo.  New dollars are being thrown into ineffective programs.  All because it is easier to fund what which is on the books versus identify better ways to change horses and fund new discretionary efforts that could make a difference.
Or perhaps we’re just waiting for the Race to the Top and Innovation Funds to kick in, believing that $5 billion or so is the magic elixir to all that is ailing our public schools?

267 thoughts on “How the ARRA Times Change

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