Commentary: Stimulus funds are a mixed blessing

For all its faults, the $787 billion federal stimulus package is keeping many public schoolteachers off the unemployment rolls, including 400 in Wichita. It's also directing dollars toward effective educational reforms, through the Obama administration's $4 billion "Race to the Top" grant program.

"We want to reward those states, those districts, those nonprofits that are willing to challenge the status quo and get dramatically better, close the achievement gap and raise the bar for everybody," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"This is a huge step for this president to take," said Republican and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the same show, praising the "Race to the Top" focus on accountability, transparency and charter school access. "Education is the No. 1 factor in our future prosperity. It's the No. 1 factor in national security, and it's the No. 1 factor in these young people having a decent future. I agree with Al Sharpton" — another partner in the uniquely bipartisan initiative —"this is the No. 1 civil right of the 21st century," Gingrich said.

But the stimulus education money has been a mixed blessing in states including Kansas, which has received $242 million so far and will apply for $121 million more this month.

The cash comes with many strings, limiting districts' ability to use it. States such as Kansas that are relying heavily on stimulus dollars to plug education budget holes rather than seed innovation will be at a disadvantage in applying for "Race to the Top" dollars.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Wichita Eagle.