(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Yesterday, Mike Petrilli posted that he has “hope” some good will come from the giant geyser of money that the federal government is blindly spewing into the government school system under the “stimulus” bill.
I would let it slide, but I owe Mike a good ribbing for this. So . . .
Mr. Sulu, you have the bridge. Mr. Spock, Mr. Checkov, you’re with me. Set phasers to snark.
Mike’s “hope” comes from the fact that he attended a meeting with some state-based reform leaders and heard some stories about how states are going to do great things in order to qualify for some of the relatively tiny portion of stimulus funding that has been set aside to reward good behavior (the so-called “race to the top” funds).
He actually calls these tales “bona fide stories of state legislatures contemplating” reform. Amazing – they’re contemplating reform!
To substantiate his point, he says that because Arne Duncan said he “may” withhold some of the tiny race-to-the-top portion of stimulus funds from states that limit charter schools, Maine is “considering” enacting a charter law. What kind of charter law we might expect to get under such conditions is a question Mike doesn’t raise. Plenty of states have charter laws that effectively block the creation of any charters that might actually produce change. The purpose of the law is for state legislators to be able to claim they have a charter law. Such laws do much more harm than good, since they siphon off political capital for reform and create a few phony, lousy charters which can then be held up and pilloried to discredit further reform efforts. You think that might happen in Maine?
“Mr. Spock, is all this . . . what I think it is?”
“Tricorder readings confirm we are witnessing the phenomenon known as ‘kabuki,’ Jim. Judging by the crudity of the performance, I would estimate that this particular specimen is at a very low stage of development.”
I’ll agree with Mike on one thing, though. The stories he heard are ceratinly “bona fide stories.” That is, they clearly are stories. What kind of stories is a question worth pondering.
Ironically, Mike wrote his post in response to an earlier post yesterday from Fordham’s Andy Smarick, which adduces with devastating clarity just some of the many reasons why we have no right to even hope for good results from the edu-stimulus:
First, although the application requires the governor to sign assurances promising to make progress in four areas, remarkably, it requires neither a plan for accomplishing those goals nor details on how these billions of dollars will be spent. The states that have applied so far have obliged, including none of this relevant information in their packages.
Second, the Department sent a letter to states on April 1 saying that states don’t have to demonstrate progress on the assurances to get the second batch (~$16 billion) of stabilization funds. They only have to have systems in place to collect data.
Third, governors lack the power to require districts to use these funds wisely. From the guidance released in April:
III-D-14. May a Governor or State education agency (SEA) limit how an LEA uses its Education Stabilization funds?
No. Because the amount of Education Stabilization funding that an LEA receives is determined strictly on the basis of formulae and the ARRA gives LEAs considerable flexibility over the use of these funds, neither the Governor nor the SEA may mandate how an LEA will or will not use the funds.
Finally, the only leverage the Department seems to have is threatening to make states ineligible for Race to the Top funds if this money isn’t wisely spent. But states, not districts, are the only eligible applicants for the Race to the Top funds, and, as the guidance makes clear, states can’t force districts to behave. So the threat is misdirected.
Game, set, match – Andy.
Looks like we’re done here. Mr. Scott, three to beam up.