Education Secretary Arne Duncan has something none of his predecessors have had: billions of dollars in discretionary funds. The question is whether they will be enough to drive reform on a nationwide scale.

The federal stimulus includes roughly $100 billion for education. But for all the Obama administration's talk about reforming education--by promoting charter schools and targeting efforts to the worst-performing schools--most of the money will go toward helping states and districts fill existing budget gaps.

That leaves $5 billion in funds for innovation. "We will not be investing in the status quo," Duncan says. "We want to use this money to push real and lasting reform." The hope is that $5 billion will be enough to generate successful models that can be copied around the country.

But $5 billion is a drop in the bucket compared with the nation's annual education expenditures of $600 billion. And even federal officials have acknowledged that it will be tough to convince local districts or states to devote resources to long-term reform when the dollars will run out in two or three years. "There's going to be a difficult tension between that immediate need to put money into job-saving and program-saving activities," says Gene Wilhoit, of the Council of Chief State School Officers, "and at the same time promote reform."