VOL. 124 | NO. 64 | Thursday, April 2, 2009
Stimulus Dollars to be Released for Schools
By LIBBY QUAID | AP Education Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The first round of school dollars from the economic stimulus law is going to states this week.
To mark the occasion, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Wednesday visited first- and fifth-grade classes at Doswell Brooks Elementary School in Capitol Heights in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.
Public schools will get an unprecedented amount of money – double the education budget under President George W. Bush – from the stimulus law over the next two years.
On Wednesday, the administration made available half of the dollars for federal programs that fund kindergarten through 12th grade and special education. In addition, Duncan will provide applications for states to get money from a special fund to stabilize state and local budgets.
President Barack Obama says the stimulus will save teachers’ jobs, although there is no estimate of how many jobs will be rescued. Nationwide, about 294,000 teachers – 9 percent – may face layoffs because of state budget cuts, according to a University of Washington study.
However, loopholes created by Congress could let states and school districts spend the money on other things, such as playground equipment or new construction.
The White House has stymied efforts by lawmakers in South Carolina to accept that state’s share of $48.6 billion made available under the stimulus law to help states cope with their budgets and keep teachers employed. South Carolina Republican Gov. Mark Sanford has said he may decline more than $700 million because the White House won’t let him spend the money to pay down his state’s debt.
In a letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the White House said there was no provision in the stimulus law for a state legislature to accept that money without approval by the governor. In its letter, obtained by The Associated Press, the White House Office of Management Budget urged Congress to change the law.
“It would be an unfortunate (and we believe an unintended) policy outcome if the children of South Carolina were to be deprived of their share of federal stimulus dollars ... because the governor chooses not to apply for stimulus funds,” OMB Director Peter Orszag wrote Tuesday.
Duncan said last week he will “come down like a ton of bricks” and withhold the second round of funds from anyone who defies Obama’s wishes.
At the same time, the administration wants to do more than save teachers’ jobs. Obama wants to transform the federal government’s role in education. His administration views the stimulus bill as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put lasting reforms in place.
In their applications, states must show improvement in teacher quality, data systems, academic standards and tests and supporting struggling schools.
States and districts will also have a chance to compete for money from a $5 billion fund solely for these kinds of innovations. Previous education secretaries had a fraction of that, about $16 million a year, to distribute for their own priorities.
Associated Press Writer Jim Davenport contributed to this story from Columbia, S.C.
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