Education’s less-than-certain windfall

There’s $10 billion for schools in the state aid bill Congress passed last month, but some school systems have reason to wonder whether they are going to see the money, Stateline.org reports. It sounded at first like the best of news for South Carolina. The $26 billion jobs bill passed by Congress earlier this month would send $143.7 million to the state, which has lost between 2,800 and 3,900 teaching jobs over the past two years. Instead, after taking a look at the bill’s fine print, state education officials found a flaw that could deprive them of that money. A set of provisions in the bill requires states to have kept up their level of higher education spending this year, something South Carolina did not do. “It appears to us that the only fix is going to be possible through Congress,” says Jim Foster, of the South Carolina Department of Education. Three weeks after the bill’s passage, several states are grappling with its ramifications. Sparking the confusion is language wedged into the U.S. Department of Education’s rules for allocating the money. While the provisions that could harm South Carolina were also present—and stricter—in the 2009 Recovery Act, the stimulus bill made it possible for states to ask Washington to waive those requirements. But last month’s jobs bill does not offer waivers, which means that those states that have made drastic cuts to higher education could miss out on the windfall…

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Did Race to the Top help or hurt the push for a common curriculum?

States were working on a common set of education standards before the Obama administration decided to make adoption of them part of its Race to the Top competition. The prospect of winning federal money motivated some states to pass the standards, but the administration’s blessing might have turned others away, Stateline.org reports. Nine states and the District of Columbia were awarded Race to the Top education grants Aug. 24, ending the interstate competition. Nowhere was the competition among states more fierce than in their efforts to adopt a common academic curriculum known as the “Common Core” standards. So far, 36 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards. Many of them seemed motivated by the possibility that doing so would help their applications for the Race to the Top money. But even though advocates for the standards are encouraged by the enthusiasm with which state officials have bought into common standards, they also are wary of the political baggage that can come with an endorsement from the Obama administration. In 2005, the National Governors Association led an initiative to get states to use the same measures to calculate graduation rates. That initiative evolved into a broader effort over the past year, as education officials from 48 states—Alaska and Texas did not participate—worked on developing a new set of academic standards for K-12 schools in conjunction with the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Those quiet state-led efforts got tied up in national politics when the administration decided to use the standards as a criterion for Race to the Top. That has made it harder for state officials to convince conservative legislators or board of education members to sign off on the Common Core standards, some observers say…

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Cuts to public TV funding put the squeeze on Big Bird

Facing huge budget deficits, a number of states across the nation are taking a hard look at whether they can continue to support public television, Stateline.org reports. Idaho Public Television already has seen its state funding cut by 61 percent since July 2008, necessitating layoffs, furloughs, and the frequent airing of reruns. Now, a new proposal from Gov. Butch Otter would force it to reduce or eliminate most of its local programming—and cease serving many rural parts of the state altogether. The challenges that Idaho Public Television is facing are emblematic of the decisions that public television stations around the country will have to make if states decide that public TV is no longer a business they can afford to be in. According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, state and local funding for public TV stations nationwide declined by $36 million between 2008 and 2009. CPB forecasts an additional $45 to $49 million in state and local cuts for the upcoming fiscal year. States have cut back on funding during previous economic downturns, says Mark Erstling, a senior vice president at CPB, but this downturn poses a new threat. “The revenue sources [such as member donations] always made up the difference,” he says. “This time around, everything is basically down.”

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