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Mr. Duncan, show us the money

The Education secretary must build transparency into his stimulus spending.

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Here's a trivia question for the world's next slumdog millionaire: How much money does America's economic stimulus provide for education? Answer: $115 billion – nearly twice the usual budget for the Department of Education. Now here's a question for the cabinet secretary doling out that money: Will the funds be spent wisely?

There's only one way to know the answer, and that's for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to make sure that the two-year spending package is transparent, and that the criteria for its dispersal are clear and precise.

Transparency should start at the agency, so taxpayers can see what's flowing from the spigot and know whether to turn it off. And it should reach all the way down to school districts, so parents can see who's getting what. Criteria, too, must be set fairly and aimed at motivating higher academic achievement.

"The opportunity for misdeeds and so forth is high with this big amount of money," former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told Education Week. "If I had a nickel for every member of Congress who called me up and said, 'Won't you look kindly on...?' "

Of the total stimulus pie of $787 billion, the education slice accounts for about 15 percent. Think of this learning wedge in two parts: The larger piece, about $61 billion, beefs up specific programs such as Pell Grants for college students, schools serving disadvantaged kids, Head Start, and technology in the classroom. Mr. Duncan has little say over this money, much of which is distributed by formulas.

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