With billions of federal dollars flowing from the government economic stimulus package, states and other localities are preparing, in some cases scrambling, to account for their spending under government reporting requirements.

The state of Arkansas Department of Education will comply with the American Recovery and Investment Act (ARRA) in part through a partnership with IBM, whose technology will be used to track and report on the results of spending. IBM, which says it is working with thousands of government agencies on similar programs, claims the Arkansas program will be the first to implement real-time reporting technology to track expenditures from the state level all the way down to granular spending.

Arkansas educational institutions are scheduled to receive up to $569.9 million in stimulus funding for its programs, which will be tracked through a public reporting Web site, www.recovery.arkansas.gov. While federal officials will be watching the results of stimulus spending, the ARRA also calls for public transparency meant to inform and involve local constituencies.

With dollars already budgeted to institutions and programs, Bill Goff, Assistant Commissioner for Fiscal and Administrative Services, Arkansas Department of Education, says drilldown reporting and visibility to spending at all levels is the first and foremost goal.

“We want the general public to understand how money is being used and what’s being accomplished with it,” Goff says. “This is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a pretty significant windfall of money and do the best we can with it to improve student achievement in the state of Arkansas.”

Local school districts will be responsible for submitting budgets and making good use of allocations under tight reporting guidelines. Information on their spending will be transmitted to the state’s department of finance and administration and combined with the overall statewide stimulus. The Web site will display the total dollars allocated to the state and, on periodic reporting cycle, show how many dollars have been spent, what they has been spent on and how much remains.

Visitors to the site will be able to drill down through state totals and view the same information sorted by the school districts and individual schools. The Web site will also include narratives that describe the programs at different levels and include local school contact links for more information.

Like other localities, Arkansas is challenged with disbursing the monies under ARRA in a timeline that will begin to close in less than 18 months in order to meet stimulus goals. Title I schools, which qualify for free and reduced-price lunch programs will be the first required to commit dollars to purchase orders.

“Just for starters, that’s a lot of money to manage in a short period of time,” says Goff. Other money for students with disabilities and the broader statewide stabilization funding will roll out on timelines one to two years longer.

The Arkansas Department of Education has been working with Cognos (acquired last year by IBM) for three or four years on data warehousing and enterprise planning investments with the state. A technology grant was used to expand the system for school reporting, where IBM is also delivering an input tool to upload information on school spending to the state system.

But Goff is mostly excited at the prospect of public access to detailed information that will provide more transparency and opportunities for lawmakers, educators and parents to interact.  and administration to be combined with the statewide stimulus. “Just the opportunity to see [the numbers] at a high level and then to drill down to specifics, what’s happening in my own kids’ school in a few mouse clicks, that will be something entirely new for us.”

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