The second round of stimulus funding for Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program, totaling $11.37 billion in all, will be made available to states by Sept. 1, about a month earlier than originally determined–and the quicker those dollars reach schools, the more jobs and educational technology programs might be saved.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the accelerated timeline on Aug. 3, saying the earlier release of funds will “help states and districts expedite stimulus spending.” The first half of Title I, IDEA, and VR stimulus funding was made available to states beginning April 1.

Education stakeholders said Duncan’s announcement might be an attempt to urge states and school systems to use their stimulus funding quicker, because states have been slow to spend so far. According to weekly spending reports posted on the U.S. Department of Education (ED) web site, as of July 24 only 21.8 percent of available funding had been spent.

The second half of stimulus money for these three programs includes $5 billion in Title I funding, $6.1 billion in IDEA funding, and $270 million in VR funding.

A recent Census report revealed that per-pupil spending in public schools varies widely from state to state, but that federal government contributions account for a relatively small portion of K-12 funding–although the $100 billion destined for education in the economic stimulus package will likely change that equation in the coming years, said Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The report, based on 2007 figures, shows the country’s 15,638 school districts received $556.9 billion in government funding that year. Of that amount, only 8.3 percent came from the federal government. The remainder–about $510 billion–came from state and local sources, it said.

If distributed over one year, the stimulus money would account for about 20 percent of per-pupil revenue–a huge windfall for districts grappling with budget shortfalls and falling property assessments.

In Florida, education officials said federal stimulus funds have saved approximately 26,000 K-12 teaching jobs and more than 15,000 higher-education jobs. In April, Florida received more than $245 million in Title I funding, $335 million in IDEA funding, and $16 million in VR funds.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated that 14,000 city school teachers and other staff members would have been laid off without the stimulus money. New York’s first half of funding included more than $454 million in Title I funding, $409 million in IDEA funding, and $13 million in Vocational Rehab funds.

Alabama state school officials estimated that the stimulus dollars will save about 2,600 education jobs. In April, Alabama received more than $81 million in Title I funding, $97 million in IDEA funding, and $5 million in VR funds.

To get their second installment of federal stimulus dollars, states will have to show ED officials how the first half of the money was used.

ED is cautioning school leaders that the stimulus marks a large, one-time increase in federal education funding–and they shouldn’t count on having this much funding every year. Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said federal officials are billing these funds as a “unique opportunity to make short-term investments with the potential for long-term benefits.”

In other words, he said, these formula-based stimulus grants are intended to fund sustainable projects and activities that will improve teaching, learning, and educational outcomes for all students, and especially those with disabilities. School leaders should be able to sustain projects even after the stimulus money runs out.

Suggested uses for IDEA funds include buying assistive technology (AT) devices for students; training students and staff members to use AT devices; and improving data collection and reporting abilities, Hunter said. These recommendations come directly from ED officials.

Suggested uses for Title I funds include purchasing online courseware to supplement traditional school offerings; investing in staff development; and implementing longitudinal data systems to better track and improve student achievement.

Links:

Stimulating Achievement: Your Guide to Federal Stimulus Funding

ED’s weekly stimulus reports

Census report: Public school finance data