Stimulus Helps Schools, But Not As Much As Hoped, According To National Survey

Aug. 25, 2009

Amy Vogt

ARLINGTON, Va. – Federal stimulus funds for education are flowing to states and local school districts, but many of the dollars are simply backfilling budget holes, limiting the ability of districts to implement innovative reforms, according to a study released today by the American Association of School Administrators. “Schools and the Stimulus: How America’s Public School Districts Are Using ARRA Funds,” is based on a survey of 160 school administrators conducted in July and August 2009. The study finds that while school leaders appreciate the opportunity the federal stimulus funding represents, a lack of flexibility in the funding and a need to fill federal, state and local budget shortfalls are sizeable obstacles that many districts have been unable to overcome in their efforts to save jobs and effect change.

“AASA members have voiced both appreciation for and concerns with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” said AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech. “While they remain committed to their daily efforts to advance education reform and innovation, the current economic realities have severely limited their ability to use stimulus dollars for anything beyond filling budget holes.”

Survey Highlights
Highlights from the AASA survey include:

  • An overwhelming majority of districts responding to the survey have already received or anticipate receiving very soon their ARRA Title I and Individual with Disabilities Education Act dollars. Respondents reported a handful of other funding streams through which they have already received (or anticipate receiving) funds beyond those received through the three major education investments in ARRA (Title I, IDEA and State Fiscal Stabilization Funds).
  • When asked how their districts are using ARRA funds to bring about education innovation and reform, more than two-thirds of respondents replied that the stimulus dollars are either filling funding gaps or represent only marginal growth in funding levels.
  • School districts across the country, following one of the major goals of the stimulus dollars, are using the one-time funds to save teaching and staff positions. However, less than half of respondents reported being able to save core subject teaching positions as a result of ARRA dollars. A majority of districts were also unable to save librarian positions, school nursing positions, maintenance/cafeteria/transportation staff positions, foreign language teaching positions, art/music/physical education teaching positions, and teaching aide/assistant positions.
  • Outside of shoring-up staff positions, school districts report they are investing ARRA funds in one-time costs such as professional development, classroom technology and classroom supplies. Respondents commented on the challenges of using stimulus funds to retain staff in light of the looming “funding cliff” once the funds are spent. One respondent wrote: “Because the funding is one-time, we cannot justify hiring new staff… While training and new software can spur innovation, one-time money does not save jobs.”
  • When asked how they are using or plan to use ARRA Title I monies, the top five responses were:
    • professional development (63 percent)
    • saving existing personnel positions (58 percent)
    • classroom technology (53 percent)
    • classroom equipment/supplies (38 percent)
    • software (35 percent)
  • The top five reported uses for ARRA IDEA dollars are identical:
    • professional development (68 percent)
    • saving existing personnel positions (61 percent)
    • classroom technology (54 percent)
    • classroom equipment/supplies (41 percent)
    • software (37 percent)
  • The ARRA State Fiscal Stabilization dollars are being invested in the same areas as Title I and IDEA dollars, though at much smaller rates, as districts report a greater variety of uses for the SFSF funds.

AASA members said a heightened level of bureaucracy and reporting tied to the stimulus funds limits their time and ability to implement education reform and innovation. One respondent commented: “Requiring districts to spend funds within the guidelines of Title I and IDEA severely restricted our flexibility and effectively prevented us from ‘stimulating’ the economy. We have money for federal programs. What we are missing is money for regular education, smaller class sizes, adequate salaries to attract quality teachers and administrators, and general support for the basics of providing a school.”

AASA President Mark Bielang, superintendent in Paw Paw, Mich., said: “The survey results echo a frustration my colleagues and I have long articulated: limited flexibility for the existing federal education funds cuts down on our ability to innovate, and the stimulus dollars come with limitations. In light of the tight economic situation at the federal, state and local levels, a little flexibility goes a long way toward supporting educator efforts to innovate and reform America’s public schools. AASA will continue to monitor ARRA and advocate for the greatest flexibility possible, so that school administrators across the country can maximize ARRA’s investment in America’s public schools.”

About the Survey
A total of 160 school administrators from 37 states completed the 16-question survey. Sixty-three percent of respondents described their district as rural, 28 percent as suburban and nine percent as urban.

About AASA
The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across the United States. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. For more information, visit