The Devil Is Certainly in the Details
The American Rescue Plan (ARP) contains the latest federal stimulus package for public education, of which Missouri is set to receive $1.9 billion. The plan doesn’t dictate how the funds must be spent, in contrast to the education stimulus packages of the Great Recession. It does contain one pesky detail, though. Before funds can be spent, the state education agency, known as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in Missouri, must engage in “meaningful consultation.” with stakeholders.
As a parent of three, I consider myself to be a key stakeholder in their education. And the guidance from the U.S. Department of Education lists students and families first and second on the list of those to include in the meaningful consultation. Did DESE consult any parents? It’s hard to say, but there is no direct indication that they did. In its application for ARP funds, DESE claims to have involved:
- The Commissioner’s Advisory Committee
- The Education Roundtable
- The Commissioner’s Teacher Advisory Committee
- “Leaders of education organizations.”
In addition, DESE claims it surveyed all superintendents and over “100 additional stakeholders.”
If by “stakeholders” the U.S. Department of Education meant those inside the education establishment, then DESE nailed it. If, on the other hand, it meant the actual stakeholders—namely families—we may have missed the mark. Not surprisingly, considering who was surveyed, DESE’s application states, “. . . survey respondents indicated support for teachers, particularly in the area of improving teacher pay.”
At least one state is taking this guidance seriously. Governor Ige of Hawaii vetoed a proposal to use stimulus money to give teachers bonuses of $2,000 precisely because the process did not include the consultation of stakeholders. Will Governor Parson do the same if DESE doesn’t reach beyond the education establishment in its decision making?
Dr. Marguerite Roza of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University suggests that this consultation clause presents a great opportunity for districts to do “participatory budgeting.” That doesn’t mean making budget meetings open to the public or posting the budget online for review. It simply means actually involving the community in budget decision making. As Roza states: “One question is whether it was ever possible to use a federal rule to change the process by which thousands of districts decide how to spend billions in school funds. Old habits die hard. And, let’s be honest, there are a lot of vested interests when it comes to school spending.”