When President Obama accepted his presidency, he pledged to honor his promise to improve our country's public schools. As outlined on the Office of the President-Elect website, Obama and Biden have pledged to invest $10 billion per year to create and sustain early learning programs for lower income families.
In addition, both Obama and Biden hope to utilize stimulus funds to ensure that competent, quality teachers are motivated to serve the lower-income public school communities. Obama is planning to increase the support for teachers in training, allowing rising teachers to receive financial support (through grants and scholarships) by committing to work in poorer school areas.
Despite these positive goals, some critics argue that the stimulus will not actually benefit all of the nation's under-served public schools.
The Lower Income / Urban School Stimulus Incentive
According to Every Child Matters, Obama's proposed stimulus package will provide low income and deprived urban public schools with an incredible financial boost. Specifically, as Every Child Matters outlines, lower income schools may benefit from the following proposals:
- Tax reductions for lower income families (as a continuation of the Child Tax Credit)
- $1.1 billion to double the number of low income children enrolled in early education programs (specifically, Head Start)
- $1 billion to improve the services of Head Start
- Nursing visitation and support for new mothers that meet low-income qualifications, allowing new mothers to learn recommended childcare techniques,which can foster improved child learning habits and better parent-child relationships
- Expansion of Pell Grants for improved training programs
- New rewards and incentives to attract and maintain high quality teachers in the lower income areas
- Increased nutritional assistance services for low income children, which will allow all low-income kids enrolled in public schools to receive free or reduced-cost meals and snacks
Examining the Immediate Impact of the Stimulus
Many public schools, especially in high-need areas, have been eager to celebrate the program and its financial support. For example, as the Detroit Free Press reveals, local Detroit public schools and institutions that meet low-income guidelines have been provided with a total of $2.5 million in stimulus funds to improve their services. While each eligible school will receive its own designated amount of funding, ranging from $25,000 to below $10,000, district leaders are thrilled that 167 in-need schools will be able to benefit from the provisions.
To be eligible for the stimulus support, 50% of the school's students must be financially eligible for free or reduced lunch programs. According to investigations, more than 60 schools in the surrounding Wayne County area are eligible for these funds, while 10 of the 60 schools can be found in the lower income areas of Detroit proper. Specifically, as the $2.5 million is targeted towards assisting with public school nutrition and food services, eligible schools will be able to use the much needed financial support in order to improve their food service equipment, cafeterias, and provisions.
Reports of Poor Stimulus Response for Low Income Schools
While Detroit public school leaders and many others throughout the nation have been optimistic regarding the stimulus program, some cities are opting to turn down the funds. For example, according to the Anchorage Daily News, former Governor Sarah Palin, prior to her resignation, decided to reject portions of the federal stimulus package in March 2009.
An estimated $74 million of the stimulus was intended for education programs for poor and special needs students, and school leaders had hoped that the stimulus funds could help struggling schools survive for the next two years. Specifically, the Alaskan Lower Yukon superintendent, John Lamont, had intended to use the stimulus money to prevent teacher lay-offs, avoid larger class sizes, as well as help protect critical school services. Along with Lamont, 53 of Alaska's public school superintendents have drafted a letter to the Legislature, hoping to convince lawmakers to override Palin's rejection of the stimulus funds.
In addition, the stimulus package assigned for Alaska had set aside a minimum of $26 million for Title One schools in Anchorage, which are located in the capital city's poorest neighborhoods. Additionally, the money would potentially provide pre-kindergarten opportunities for lower income families, who are typically unable to afford preschool enrollment costs.
Ultimately, depending on each state and city leader's decisions regarding the stimulus funds, qualified low-income public schools can enjoy the benefits - but only if their local leaders agree to the acceptance and distribution of the federal funds.