The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has issued new guidance to help states and school systems use ed-tech stimulus funding to drive lasting education reforms and improve student achievement.

The guidance is critical, largely because, as the report states, the funding “will likely not be available at the same level beyond September 30, 2011.” Therefore, states must be prudent and efficient, making sure to “focus these funds on short-terms investment with the potential for long-term benefits, rather than make ongoing commitments that they might not be able to sustain once [stimulus] funds are expended.”

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides a total of $650 million in additional funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. These ed-tech stimulus dollars are a one-time source of funds that supplement the approximately $265 million in EETT funding made available under regular FY2009 appropriations.

In its report, ED describes the four principles that should guide the distribution and use of stimulus funds, including those distributed through EETT:

1. Spend funds quickly to save and create jobs;
2. Improve student achievement through school improvement and reform;
3. Ensure transparency, reporting, and accountability; and
4. Invest one-time ARRA funds thoughtfully to minimize the “funding cliff.”

State rules and professional development

Funding will be distributed to states by formula, and states don’t have to submit a revised ed-tech plan to qualify. The report says states may use up to 5 percent of their total EETT stimulus allotment for state-level activities. Any funds that are not reserved for state-level activities must be awarded as subgrants to local educational agencies (LEAs).

States may spend no more than 60 percent of the funding they set aside for state-level activities on administrative costs. The remaining funds must be used to carry out activities the meet the purposes of EETT, such as supporting innovative strategies, supporting high-quality professional and curriculum development, and developing performance-measurement systems to evaluate the effectiveness of local programs supported with EETT funds.

States may, but are not required to, allocate a portion of their total EETT stimulus funds on a formula basis; however, they may not allocate more than 50 percent of these funds by formula.

As with EETT funding that is distributed through the traditional appropriations process, school district recipients must use at least 25 percent of their EETT stimulus funds to provide ongoing, sustained, and intensive professional development for their staff. This training should focus on the integration of advanced technologies into the curriculum and instruction, and on using these technologies to create new learning environments.

ED’s guidance also lists several questions for decision makers to ponder as they consider how best to spend ed-tech stimulus funds:

1. Drive results for students. Will the proposed use of funds drive improved results for students, including students in poverty, students with disabilities, and English language learners?
2. Increase capacity. Will the proposed use of funds increase educators’ long-term capacity to improve results for students?
3. Accelerate reform. Will the proposed use of funds advance state, district, or school improvement plans and the reform goals encompassed in the ARRA?
4. Avoid the “funding cliff” and improve productivity. Will the proposed use of funds avoid recurring costs that states, school systems, and schools are unprepared to assume when this funding ends? Will the proposed use serve as “bridge funding” to help transitions to more effective and efficient approaches?
5. Foster continuous improvement. Will the proposed use of funds include approaches to measure and track implementation and results, and create feedback loops to modify or discontinue strategies based on evidence?