ED issues rules on ed-tech stimulus funds

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?

The guide also lists examples of uses for the funds that school systems are encouraged to consider, such as increasing accessibility to technology, particularly through public-private partnerships, with special emphasis on access for high-need schools; using technology to promote parental involvement and foster communication among students, parents, and teachers; preparing one or more teachers as technology leaders who will help other teachers, and providing bonus payments to technology leaders; using technology to collect and analyze data to inform and enhance teaching and school improvement efforts; and developing, enhancing, or implementing IT or distance-education courses.

Transparency, accountability, reporting, and other requirements

The second piece of the guide describes the shared responsibilities of ED, states, and local entities to ensure that no stimulus funds are wasted or abused.

According to the guide, states must monitor grant and subgrant activities to ensure compliance with all applicable federal requirements. If a state or local entity fails to comply with requirements, ED may withhold or suspend the funds or recover misspent funds following an audit.

The ARRA also establishes a Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board, which is responsible for coordinating and conducting oversight of stimulus spending to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse.

The guide urges readers to report any instances of mistreatment of funds to ED’s Office of Inspector General at (800) MIS-USED or oig.hotline@ed.gov.

To ensure transparency, ED will keep public records of all state implementations of the funds, and this information will be available in quarterly reports and posted at http://www.recovery.gov.

States must report on the performance of LEAs receiving EETT stimulus funds on four measures: (1) the percentage of districts receiving EETT funds that have effectively and fully integrated technology; (2) the percentage of classrooms with internet access in high- and low-poverty schools; (3) the percentage of teachers who meet their state technology standards; and (4) the percentage of students who meet state technology standards by the end of the eighth grade.

Finally, the flexibility provisions that apply to the use of federal funds under No Child Left Behind also apply to the ARRA. Under transferability, for instance, a state may transfer up to 50 percent of the non-administrative funding it receives for EETT to other programs that “address more effectively its unique needs,” or it can transfer 50 percent of its non-administrative funding from other specified programs into EETT. Likewise, an LEA may transfer up to 50 percent of the funds allocated to it by formula under certain other programs to its EETT allocation, or to its allocation under Part A of Title I.

For additional information on transferability, ED recommends visiting http://www.ed.gov/programs/transferability/finalsummary04.doc.

For more information about the use of ed-tech stimulus funding in general, educators can send specific questions to title2D@ed.gov.


Guidance on EETT Funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Stimulating Achievement resource center. Learn how to make wise spending decisions and keep track of school needs as stimulus funds become available. Go to: Stimulating Achievement

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