- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

President Obama wants to do more than save teachers’ jobs or renovate classrooms with his economic recovery bill. He wants to transform the federal government’s role in education.

Public schools will get an unprecedented amount of money - double the education budget under George W. Bush - from the stimulus bill in the next two years. With those dollars, Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan want schools to do better.

From Mr. Duncan’s perspective, the sheer size of the stimulus bill makes it a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put lasting reforms in place.

“It’s also an opportunity to redefine the federal role in education, something we’re thinking a whole lot about,” Mr. Duncan said recently. “How can we move from being (about) compliance with bureaucracy to really the engine of innovation and change?”

The bill includes a $5 billion fund solely for these innovations, an amount that might not seem like much, considering the bill’s $787 billion price tag. But it is massive compared with the $16 million in discretionary money Mr. Duncan’s predecessors got each year for their own priorities.

“It’s unprecedented that a secretary would have this much money and this much latitude,” said Charlie Barone, director of federal policy for the group Democrats for Education Reform.

Congress laid out broad guidelines for the fund in the stimulus bill that became law on Tuesday. But it will be up to Mr. Duncan and the team of advisers he is assembling to decide how to dole out the money. They have until Oct. 1, when the next fiscal year begins, to start distributing the dollars.

What would the fund pay for? Rewarding states and school districts that are making big progress.

To get the money, states will have to show they are making good progress in four areas:

• Boosting teacher effectiveness and getting more good teachers into high-poverty, high-minority schools.

• Setting up data systems to track how much a student has learned from one year to the next.

• Improving academic standards and tests.

• Supporting struggling schools.

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