By John Fensterwald in The Educated Guess
March 9th, 2010 -- The Obama administration has put a hold on approving a second round of education stimulus money for California until Gov. Schwarzenegger responds to questions raised by school districts and parent advocates.
The groups — the Education Coalition and Parents and Students for Great Schools, led by Public Advocates – have challenged Schwarzenegger’s claim that the state will spend enough on K-12 schools to qualify for additional federal money. As a condition for receiving the money, California has agreed either to spend proportionally as much on education as on other programs, or to keep spending on education at a pre-recession level.
The groups charge that Schwarzenegger is weasling out of that responsibility by playing with the books. The administration has done so, the groups charge, by deferring payments to future years while counting them in current years. His proposed gas-tax swap, replacing the sales tax on gas with an excise tax, would have the effect of lowering the state’s obligation under Proposition 98 by $900 million in 2011-12.
About $200 million in additional stimulus money is at stake; additionally, the state would not be able to receive Race to the Top money until the federal government certified that the state met its spending obligation. The U.S. Department of Education has given the governor’s office until March 26 to respond to its inquiry.
School Groups Ask Duncan to Scrutinize Cuts in California
By Lesli Maxwell in EdWeek
February 19, 2010 9:20 AM | A coalition of school districts and statewide education groups in California is playing a little hardball with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over the Republican chief executive's latest budget proposal.
Ticked off by what they estimate would be a $3.1 billion blow to the state's K-12 budget if lawmakers agree to the governor's spending plan, the coalition, calling itself the Education Management Group, fired off a six-page letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan that essentially seeks to rat out the governor for what they say amounts to a budget shell game that hurts schools. (Indisputably, public schools in California have been cut to the bone already over the last two years as the recession-battered state has struggled to balance out-of-whack budgets.)
The Schwarzenegger administration, these groups allege, is using an accounting ruse to give the appearance that California will meet the "maintenance of effort" provision of the federal economic-stimulus law, which requires states to preserve K-12 funding at least at 2006 levels. Maintaining that minimum funding for K-12 is a condition for states to receive money from the stimulus program's State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. California applied last month for its final share of that fund.
The letter delves into somewhat technical accounting questions around "forward funding" and using "verifiable revenue-based data." But the upshot is this: The group wants Secretary Duncan to force Gov. Schwarzenegger to play by the rules, a move that it says would stave off about $600 million in cuts to K-12 in fiscal 2011.
Here's the key paragraph in the letter:
"In closing, we greatly appreciate the federal government's investment in schools. In this time of brutal state cuts to education, federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds have served as a lifesaver for California students and schools. We also understand the federal government must be sensitive to the financial problems faced by states. However, the maintenance of effort assurance that California recently submitted to your office seems to seek federal cooperation to cut schools disproportionately and with impunity."
No word on whether anyone from the U.S. Department of Education has responded to the letter, but I'll update this post when I get an answer.
Most of the school districts that signed the letter are medium-sized suburban systems or small, rural ones. The two biggies that did sign on are San Diego and San Francisco, which together enroll about 190,000 kids. San Diego Unified officials have been particularly pro-active about speaking out against state budget cuts. The district is also notable for being the biggest system that declined to participate in California's bid for Race to the Top Fund grants under the stimulus program.
And it looks like more advocacy for sparing public schools is in the works, according to this news release from the California Teachers Association.
CTA and Education Coalition call on lawmakers to stop breaking promises to California's students
2.24.10 -- Today, the California Teachers Association and its partners in the Education Coalition called on the Governor and legislators to keep their promises to California’s students. Specifically, the Governor has proposed reneging on the July budget agreement he signed into law and the commitment to restore more than $11.2 billion to our students and schools, as required by Proposition 98, the voter-approved minimum school funding guarantee.