Thursday, April 09, 2009

SCHOOLS CHIEF: FEDERAL EDUCATION BUCKS ARE ON THE WAY: “to help save jobs, to help better prepare students.”


April 6, 2009 -- California's financially battered schools will get a $1.2-billion transfusion of federal stimulus funds next month, state schools chief Jack O'Connell said today, the first part of what could amount to $12.7 billion in education aid over the next two years.

But, O'Connell warned in a conference call with other education officials and reporters, he would "vigorously fight" any effort by legislators to use the federal funds to supplant education aid already promised in the state's undernourished budget.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's office suggested last month that one way to whittle down a looming $8 billion state budget deficit would be to cut education spending by $3 billion, then use a like amount of the federal stimulus aid to "backfill" the cut. O'Connell said any legislative effort along those lines would be viewed with disfavor by federal officials and might jeopardize future federal aid.

"I am adamantly opposed to the potential option that the legislative analyst put forth," the superintendent of public instruction said. "And I believe the federal government would certainly not look favorably on the issue ... the federal government wants this money to be used in a supplemental fashion, to help save jobs, to help better prepare students."

O'Connell said California received the money last week in two "pots." One, referred to as "Title I" funds, can be used for programs directly linked to improving education. These range from increased teacher training to preserving teacher jobs, and from expanded early education efforts to more sophisticated online teaching aids for high school students. The second is money for programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), also referred to as "special education."

O'Connell said that his hope was the money just received would be allocated to school districts in May, after it jumps through a maze of accounting procedures and is approved by the Legislature.

Legislative approval is required for the federal funds to be released. Under state law, the governor's office must submit plans to spend the funds to legislators, who then have 30 days to act on it. If the Legislature fails to act, the money can be spent. But O'Connell and other officials said they hoped lawmakers would act quickly to expedite the money getting to districts.
The $564 million in Title I money and $634 million in IDEA funds represent half of what the state is in line to receive in those two areas. California may also be in line to receive more than $8 billion in other education-related money from the $787 billion allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved by Congress in February to help jump start the country's sputtering economy.

The other funds include a bond program to finance school construction and rehabilitation projects with the federal government paying the interest on the bonds, and a $4.9 billion school "stabilization fund" under which local school districts would have wide discretion on what the money was spent for. California would have to compete with other states for some of the additional funds.

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