Schools’ stimulus spending tough to track amid varied reporting rules

Alongside textbooks and technology, Texas school districts have doled out stimulus money to car dealerships, Atmos Energy, and neighboring cities. Why? It’s hard to tell, reports the Dallas Morning News. Districts must report whom they’ve paid when they spend at least $25,000 in stimulus funds, but they don’t have to say what they’ve purchased—and anything less than that doesn’t require federal reporting. The state education agency asks districts to explain how they will spend their share of $7.1 billion, but the public can’t obtain the information easily. Because few districts break down the purchases, most taxpayers don’t know how their stimulus money gets spent. Federal expenditure reports add to the confusion. They include payments to companies outside the district’s normal supply chain, but offer no further detail, making some acquisitions look questionable. The districts’ answers speak more to accounting than scandal—but determining the funds’ real use remains tricky because the federal Office of Management and Budget wrote the rules to cover all agencies receiving stimulus money, not specifically school districts, said Sandra Abrevaya, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education. “Bottom line, [this was a] great first attempt at setting up a federal reporting system,” she said. “It works quite well for some programs, but doesn’t allow as much detail at the [district] level as we would have built in if we were designing it just for ED.”

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Career-oriented courses at Texas schools get with the times

Movies are in 3-D, accountants who track fraud are in demand, and farmers now use computers to measure moisture in the soil. While the times have changed, high school career classes in Texas were much the same, sometimes emphasizing outdated skills, reports the Dallas Morning News—but that is now changing, too. New Labor Department revisions in career and technology education have trickled down to the Texas Education Agency and to school districts. Following the Labor Department’s lead to cluster career classes into 16 areas, the state has collapsed 600 approved classes into 200 carefully planned courses. But the new career and technology curriculum has hit at the same time as new state graduation requirements, causing some chaos. Wes Cunningham, principal of Frisco’s Career and Technical Education Center, said he thinks the state changes, for the most part, are good. They emphasize new skills for the job market. For instance, students interested in architecture have learned a computer program called AutoCAD, the standard for drawing plans. But that standard is changing to Revit, which produces 3-D drawings. Students will spend less time on AutoCAD and will add Revit, he said. That falls in line with the goal to make sure students are prepared for both a job and college…

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