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Leadership Goes Beyond Pinocchio’s Noses

by Jeanne Allen
Response to “Arne Duncan’s Distracting Gaffe“, National Journal
March 5, 2013

Irresponsible Leadership That Goes Beyond Pinocchio’s Noses

The Center for Education Reform wrote last week about the Chicken Little behavior this administration is leading on education, along with countless school leaders and association spokespeople. We are happy to have sparked a mini-debate on the subject! But what remains absolutely astonishing is that among all of these thousands of entities that spend and receive federal money, no one seems to know or to be even talking about how the almighty federal dollar flows.

NEWS FLASH — there isn’t a pool of money sitting in the Department of the Treasury with educational purpose just waiting to be cut. The reality is MOST OF THE MONEY FOR THIS YEAR – almost 90% of it — has been drawn down or collected by states and districts!!! Some states — like New Jersey — already have all of their money for the year.

Of that which remains — limited Title funds, some Head Start, for example — between 5-8% of the remaining 10% will likely be reduced. That amounts to less a half a percent overall for the year!

I’ve personally called people who should know whether and how federal spending flows and what might be left that states need, yet they’ve been clueless. There is no public information available by the US Department of Education that shows what has been distributed to every state and district and what remains. Without data, no wonder school districts are in a tizzy!

It’s easy to incite outrage when our leaders — who the public presumes understand policy and budgets — tell people they are going to lose their beloved teachers, the arts, after-school, food, early childhood and more.

The reality is that while school and school district bean counters most likely know for certain what money they have, what funds they might lose and how, the US Education Secretary clearly doesn’t, and superintendents and school board officials aren’t saying. After all, it’s easier to create a problem than a solution.

That’s plausible, some might say, but what about the fiscal year that starts October 1?

Well, Congress must contend with pending budget issues regardless of sequestration, and yes the uncertainly of spending levels absolutely affects the plans some may have had. Schools and districts should prepare for the kind of reduction that is often caused by natural enrollment fluctuations when student populations change, either due to birth rate impact, changes in regional composition, or even competition.

Financial fluctuations are a fact of life for most public enterprises. It’s not new and it happens every few years for schools, regardless of who’s in power. In the all-important enterprise of education, it’s time we recognize that what we know and how we conduct ourselves is especially critical to the children and students whose lives we aspire to improve. We must demonstrate that truth, problem-solving, intellectual rigor and the ability to weather any storm are critical attributes worth having and worth learning, in and out of school.