Ericha Parks | LA School District Examiner | www.examiner.com
March 26 — California schools are in need of a federal bail out to backfill money cut by the state. What, if anything, does the federal stimulus package have to offer schools?
School districts in Southern California scramble to review, balance and amend their budgets in light of the state budget crisis. This balancing act has many school districts asking questions about infusions of federal money. Because the state cuts dramatically impact school district budgets, which has about an 84 percent budget for salaries, many teachers were served with pink slips this month.
Should teachers and school districts hold out hope of recovery from Obama’s stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009))? What about the schools that do not qualified for Title I money? Will there be any money for the average school in California?
The answer is surprisingly, yes. There is some hope. Weave in and out of the intricate provisions of the federal and state departments that fund the stimulus package, and there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. In reviewing the stimulus package, as it relates to California education, many schools will benefit from the federal aid. However, the biggest benefactors of that money will be impoverished schools.
Title I, or disadvantaged schools, will receive the most money to improve academic achievement. The second biggest benefactor of the education federal aid is a fund that is called Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). After Title I and IDEA money, there are other specific earmarks for funding, such as: National Science Foundation, child nutrition, child care, Headstart, school improvements, impact aid for students on federal land, education technology for closing education gaps, statewide data systems for tracking progress, education for the homeless, grants for retaining teachers in schools that have education gaps, teacher quality achievement for higher education, state fiscal stabilization fund for low performing schools and Qualified Zone Academy Program for closing the gap in impoverished areas.
Many high-risk and low performing California schools will see money from this federal stimulus package under many of the earmarks. Indeed, many of our California schools are infested with gangs, drugs and a high drop out rate, whereby warranting general relief in these high risk areas. However, some of our higher performing schools have suffered as well as evidenced by the massive layoffs in all school districts. Certainly, there has to be some sort of relief for the average school that is not considered high risk. The average school has also suffered slashed budgets resulting in a loss of teachers.
I reviewed IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Act, run by the US Department of Education. It is the second largest benefactor of the federal aid money. IDEA grants California money for schools to use for special services for disabled students. Although schools generally receive money each year from this fund, the new stimulus plan dramatically increases this budget. This might be the hope that the average school needs to help relieve their budget shortfalls with a much needed infusion.
There appears to be no real relief offered to higher performing schools in the budget earmarks proposed by Obama’s plan. But the IDEA stimulus line-item is a different story. Luckily, digging a little deeper into the new IDEA Part B line item in the stimulus plan, the average school would find that it provides for a federal budget infusion of $6 Billion in additional funding for students with disabilities. Of that federal money, $1.2 Billion is budgeted for California's Department of Education for distribution to California schools. This is where it gets tricky. Depending on how this IDEA bail out money is allocated, there could be some real relief for average performing schools in addition to the underperforming schools in California.
To demonstrate how this federal IDEA money could help average schools, I analyzed a local school district’s budget (for 2008-2009) as it relates to spending for special needs students. This particular school district received approximately $2 Million in funding aid from IDEA, for this school year. However, the school district spent an additional $12.5 Million in excess of the IDEA funding. In other words, IDEA federal money does not pay the actual cost for students with disabilities expenditures. In fact, it only covers a fraction of the cost. This additional IDEA money is something that the school district should be entitled to receive to backfill the $12.5 Million deficit.
Since many schools are looking for ways to backfill their slashed budgets, this might be the key to supplementing average schools with funds from the federal aid package. Although this money is allocated to states by grants, it is difficult to discover how this additional IDEA money will find its way to various schools. Governor Schwarzenneger is currently sifting through the package and will make two payouts of this IDEA Part B bail out money. One payout will be at the end of this month and again in the fall. According to the United States Department of Education, IDEA Part B, Administration and Support, states can "distribute amounts in any order". This could be a good lobbying point for California schools to appropriately secure a portion of the IDEA line-item in the stimulus fund.