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Governor Receives Federal Stimulus Funds, Dollars Should Flow to Districts in May

By Jeff Hudson - April 10, 2009

California's elected officials want you to know that they're doing everything they can to get federal stimulus money out to schools.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said "I am committed to spending (American) Recovery (and Reinvestment) Act (ARRA) dollars efficiently and effectively, and to passing these dollars onto schools as quickly as possible to benefit students and protect jobs."

The Governor's staff issued a press release Tuesday, saying that the Governor's California Recovery Task Force had asked the legislature for expedited budget authority "to quickly pass $1.2 billion in federal ARRA funding on to schools."

Another press release came from the Governor's office on Thursday, saying that the Governor had formally applied for $4.9 billion in funds that will "flow into California, and quickly to schools."  Federal guidelines for the funding had been posted on Monday; the Governor's staff said that "no other state in the nation had applied for the funding" before California.

The Governor's Recovery Task Force estimates that California will receive $3.1 billion in an initial installment from the ARRA's State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.  Approximately $2.6 billion of that money is estimated to go toward K-12 education, and $537 million toward the California State University and University of California systems. (Very little federal stimulus money will go toward California’s community college system.)

Glen Thomas, California's Secretary of Education, said "These funds come with significant flexibility, allowing our schools and colleges to meet their most critical needs while continuing to improve student performance."

The ARRA stimulus money will also include an estimated $562.5 million in funding targeted for schools with large populations of Title I (economically disadvantaged) students, and $634 million in federal funds toward programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This represents about half of the expected federal stimulus funding on those two categories. There will also be $12.9 million in National School Lunch Program federal equipment assistance funds.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell discussed the situation as well during a teleconference with reporters on Monday.  He stressed that "a little over $1 billion will shortly be available for districts," meaning the Title I and IDEA funds.

"The money was sent to Sacramento (by the federal government) last week," O'Connell said. "My goal is to have it out to districts in the month of May," once the required paperwork is finished.

"My goal is to make sure California schools receive the maximum amount of money, and the California Department of Education (CDE) will provide these (federal) funds to district to avoid layoffs and cuts."

It remains to be seen how much federal stimulus money will actually result in an increase in special education programs on the ground.  O'Connell quietly acknowledged that many districts will probably plug the IDEA money into their existing special education programs, and then back out a roughly equal amount of money that had come out of their district's general fund, which will then be applied toward softening the blow from cuts in state funding.  O'Connell noted that while the federal government mandates special education programs, and is supposed to fund up to 40 percent of their cost, historically the federal government has actually put up less than half of its share of the bill. "(The federal government) will get closer" to that 40 percent – at least for the next two years – as a result of the federal stimulus funds, O'Connell indicated.

"Keep in mind, its one-time money, spread over two years," O'Connell said. "Stimulus money will provide a lifeline and will help during this difficult economic period."

Federal money for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program will have more flexibility than the Title I or IDEA funds. "The CDE is providing information as necessary to the State Department of Finance and the office of the (California) Secretary of Education, in order to complete the application as soon as possible" for the Stabilization Fund money.

Districts will need to apply for the Stabilization Fund money, O'Connell said.  The Title I and IDEA money, on the other hand, will be sent out based on existing funding formulas.

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