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Details of Senate Stimulus Bill Emerging

By Jeff Hudson - January 30, 2009

Acknowledging that the federal stimulus bill is “evolving literally by the moment” as the legislation is being marked up in Senate committees, California Superintendent of Public Instruction offered a horseback assessment to school district administrators back home via a teleconference on Thursday afternoon.  O’Connell was literally on the road as the teleconference was held.

O’Connell said he’d spoken earlier in the day with Arne Duncan, the Obama Administration’s newly-sworn in Secretary of Education.  And O’Connell took care to convey one point right at the outside regarding the federal stimulus package: “Just plan on two years” of one-time funding, O’Connell said. “Some colleagues have asked about year three, but the President only plans on this for two years. Duncan was pretty adamant.”

O’Connell said that Duncan was also “sympathetic” to the concerns of educators in California and elsewhere that the “supplement, not supplant” provisions of the law could restrict the use of federal stimulus funds by local school districts, since the federal law will apparently reference school district funding in 2006 -- a time when California school districts were receiving quite a bit more money from the state than they are getting now. “The whole issue is troublesome for us. . . (Duncan) wants to work with us,” O’Connell reported.

O’Connell added that there are significant differences between the version of the stimulus bill passed by the House on Jan. 28, and the version that is being prepared for a Senate floor vote.  The Senate version, for instance, does not contain funding to support statewide school data systems, which is funded in the House legislation.

The Senate bill has about 2 billion more than the House bill in terms of stimulus funds for school construction and modernization.  This will be targeted at “shovel-ready projects” that can get underway almost immediately, O’Connell stressed.

All told, the federal stimulus legislation has about $145 billion in funding for education, with California likely to receive about $10 billion for pre-K through grade 12 programs.

Terry Bradley, superintendent of the Clovis Unified School District, asked if the construction and maintenance funding would be appropriated using a funding formula similar to the state’s revenue limit funding system.  Carol Bingham, director of the California Department of Education’s Fiscal Policy Division, said she believed that this would be the case, to which Bradley replied “That’s the best news I’ve heard in a week.”

Marcos Aguilar, founder of the Academia Semillas del Pueblo charter school in Los Angeles, asked if a spreadsheet with a breakdown of federal stimulus Money for charter schools was available, based on the House legislation.  The answer: “Not yet.”

Lynn Orong, Chief Business Officer of the San Bruno Park School District, asked if an “easy reference” matrix comparing the House and Senate versions of federal stimulus legislation would be available. California Department of Education staff indicated that such a document might go up on the CDE’s website on by the morning of Jan. 30.  Orong also asked how the federal stimulus package might affect districts funded through the basic aid framework, and was told “we don’t know yet.”

Political observers believe that the Senate could make modifications to the existing Senate version of the bill, in an effort to bring some Republican votes onboard.  Backers of the stimulus package hope to get the bill through the Senate by mid-February, meaning that school districts might begin to see some of the stimulus funding as soon as 60 days later, in April or May.

“It’s still a very, very fluid situation” in the Senate, O’Connell said.          

Editor's Note: Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.