To help states address unprecedented budget pressures, the U.S. Department of Education today released promising practices to state leaders about how to spend education dollars productively and highlighting flexibility available for spending federal funds.
During a national press call, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, "There is a right way and a wrong way to cut spending, and the most important guiding principle I can offer is to minimize the negative impact on students and seize this opportunity to redirect your spending priorities."
In a letter to governors, Duncan wrote that "governments at every level face a critical need to cut spending where we can in order to invest where we must." He included two new documents - one provides smart ideas to increase educational productivity and the other highlights flexibility available under federal law. Together, the documents offer state and local policymakers suggestions for using resources effectively, efficiently, and responsibly in tight budget times.
One document offers smart ideas for states and districts to spend wisely while focusing on improving student achievement. It encourages educators to frame all of their budget decisions around several key principles, such as improving student outcomes and investing in programs that have the greatest evidence of effectiveness.
The document also provides specific examples of states and districts that are using policies or approaches to drive student achievement and increase graduation rates. The examples include leveraging local partnerships and resources, promoting the use of technology and changing teacher and principal compensation systems to reward excellence.
To help states and districts spend their federal funds more effectively, the Department released a document outlining flexibility currently available under federal laws. States and districts do not need to apply for a waiver to take advantage of the flexibility outlined in the new document.
Under current law, states may transfer up to half of funds available for state-level activities in certain formula grants. For example, state could spend money from its safe and drug-free school grant to improve teacher and leader effectiveness. Districts are given similar flexibility for several programs.
Rural districts have additional flexibility through the REAP-Flex provision, which allows small districts to use formula grants from certain programs to carry out activities authorized under a broader range of programs.
"While we always seek the greatest return on investment for children and taxpayers, we believe states and districts are in the best position to tailor the use of federal funds to meet the individual needs of students," Duncan said.
In addition to the productivity and flexibility documents, Duncan's letter also included, "Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration," which gives examples of districts that have moved beyond the adversarial labor-management relationship.
The document is the product of the Feb. 15-16 Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration, which the Department sponsored in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, Council of the Great City Schools, and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Funding to support the conference was provided by the Ford Foundation.