Vermont awaits major influx of school funding (St. Albans Messenger)

More than $135 million anticipated

Written By Michelle Monroe
Monday, April 06, 2009

ST. ALBANS — Vermont is slated to receive $77 million in education stabilization funds authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), according to the legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee.

As Vermonters await the full benefit of those funds, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week, announced that there would be conditions placed on the $43.8 billion total federal investment.

Rae Ann Knopf, the Vermont Dept. of Education's point person on ARRA funding, explained. "What they would like to see are state policy efforts … that demonstrate this is something you believe is worthwhile," she said.

Another $58.5 million is slated to come to Vermont schools through increased Title I and special education funds authorized under ARRA.

The funding will come in two chunks. The bulk of it, 67 percent, will be released as soon as Vermont sends in its application for the funds. As part of that application Vermont must agree to work toward four goals laid out by the administration, according to Knopf.

Those four goals are: teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of teachers; data systems which track students from pre-kindergarten through college; rigorous standards and assessments; and intensive support for students in low performing schools.

In order to receive the second round of funding, states must show that they have begun to make progress in those areas.

The funding also has a maintenance of effort (MOE) condition. States must fund K-12 and higher education at the same levels as in 2008 or 2009, whichever was higher. For Vermont the higher level of funding for higher education was in 2008 and for K-12 education it was in 2009.

A failure to meet the requirements placed on the stabilization funds will disqualify states from the competitive grant programs, as well.

Vermont is in a good position to meet those requirements. The state never lowered its standards in response to the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) as other state's did, and has a test, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), with which student progress toward those standards. In addition, recently released new "power standards" which are tied even more closely to the NECAP.

The state has a K-12 data system and has been working to meet the principles laid out in the American COMPETES Act, Knopf said. The America COMPETES Act provides funding for the development of K-16 longitudinal data systems whose purpose is to provide information on college preparedness and success and tie that information back to high schools and elementary schools.

Vermont has already working on sharing data beyond K-12, Knopf explained, by including such things as SAT scores in the data system.

Vermont's K-12 schools also will receive $25.8 million in funding for special education, which will be coming through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B. Under current rules, IDEA-B funds may be used to supplement existing programs but not to replace local funding with federal funding, a rule commonly known as "supplement not supplant."

Knopf said the supplement-not-supplant requirement will still be in place, and that schools will be receiving guidance about how they may spend the funds this week. "It's designed to help school's pay for increased costs," Knopf said.

Fifteen percent of the IDEA-B funds are for prevention, Knopf said, providing schools with funding to provide the type of early interventions that prevent students from ending up in special education programs. "There are some really good models out there," Knopf said.

State Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin County, said the Senate Education Committee has been looking at precisely those kinds of programs around the state.

Vermont's schools also will be receiving $32.9 million in Title I funding. Title I funding is distributed to schools based on the number of economically disadvantaged students in the school. Of that funding $7.1 million is designated for schools in need of improvement.

The funding is intended to prevent schools from needing to cut positions and reduce services, Knopf explained.

The Title I funds are "also designed to encourage states and schools to embrace school reform efforts," Knopf said, with the intention of funding school-wide changes such as positive behavioral supports. "Ultimately, those are cost reducing," Knopf said.

"The education portion of the funding is really dedicated to improving things for our kids for the future," Knopf said.