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Recovery Board will track nonstimulus funding for education jobs

The board that oversees stimulus spending will launch a website in mid-November to track nonstimulus federal funding for education jobs, a senior federal official said on Thursday. The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which Congress established in 2009 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is responsible for creating the site because a new education jobs law requires states to disclose their expenditures using stimulus reporting guidelines, the official said.

The $10 billion initiative, which Congress funded in August, is aimed at funneling money into states and tribes to fund education jobs before the 2010-2011 school year gets into full swing. As of July, about 75 percent of school districts that received stimulus funds expected to cut teaching positions this school year, according to a report by the independent Center on Education Policy. The new education program is anticipated to support about 160,000 jobs, and the Recovery Act already has funded about 300,000 positions, according to the Education Department.

The Recovery Board is awaiting approval of an application it filed with the government to use the name FederalTransparency.gov for the new site, the senior official said. If the request is denied, the board will use another FederalTransparency domain name it has secured. The goal of board Chairman Earl Devaney is to be prepared for displaying an array of reports about the effects of nonstimulus federal spending on the site, if Congress wants to apply the same reporting requirements to other spending bills, the official added.

The site would be different from USAspending.gov, which tracks federal contracts, in that it will focus on illustrating the results of contracts and other spending. Maps, charts and other interactive graphics would visualize the data.

Jobs covered under the education funding program include teachers, principals, athletic coaches, classroom aides, psychologists, information technology personnel, custodians, bus drivers and other positions that support early childhood, elementary or high school learning. The board does not yet know whether the new site will differentiate between types of jobs funded. States and schools are prohibited from using the money to pay down state debt or other education expenses, except for administrative costs that total no more than 2 percent of the state's award.

The 2009 law only called for the Recovery Board to maintain a public website -- Recovery.gov -- that would provide transparency into stimulus spending activities. The Office of Management and Budget, which oversees USAspending.gov and wrote the reporting guidelines for Recovery.gov, backs the board's endeavors to open up spending information to citizens, OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack said.

Sometimes, creating a new web domain to post federal data can be a very effective strategy, but in other situations, it might be more productive to use existing sites, such as USAspending.gov, she added. In the case of the new jobs fund, OMB officials look forward to working closely with the board and Education to determine the best approach, Mack said.

When the education-specific site goes live in November, it will showcase a map that users can click on to see the number of jobs that local recipients have funded using the Education Department payouts. Eventually, charts and graphs of the same caliber as those depicted on Recovery.gov will be available, as well as downloads, the official said.

Education spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya said, "The administration strongly supports the Recovery Board's efforts in making federal spending information transparent to the public."

The board has tasked Web services firm Smartronix with operating the site using money from its pre-existing contract for running Recovery.gov. The contract expires in January 2014 and has a ceiling of $18 million.

The agreement should cover the duration of the education jobs program, since funds are intended to be allocated by the end of this school year. Under a pre-existing law, schools only can bank the money until 2012, according to Education.

Department officials have said states are required to update the government quarterly with descriptions of how they are spending awarded funds. Like stimulus recipients, education fund recipients must file detailed summaries using an online inbox that the Recovery Board maintains at FederalReporting.gov, the official said. The board still is deciding how frequently the new website will be updated.

"Mr. Devaney wants the American people to see where this money is going and to do this as fast as we can," board spokesman Ed Pound said.

On Recovery.gov, not every school district is required to report on teaching positions that were funded with stimulus money. The new site will show exactly how many positions localities were able to fund, the official said.

In August, Education officials pledged to award funding to states within two weeks after they submit an eligible application. Most recently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that Wyoming will receive $17.5 million to support education jobs. Funds are distributed based on population figures.

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