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Feds to schools: Check is not yet in the mail

whitehouse.govPresident Barack Obama speaks about saving teachers' jobs Aug. 6 in Washington, D.C.

Many unknowns stand in the way of California school districts actually being able to spend money from the $26 billion state relief fund signed into law by President Obama this week. 

The president declared that, among other things, the fund "will keep at least 160,000 teachers in the classroom this fall who would otherwise be out of a job."   

Of the $26 billion, California will get at least $1.2 billion for its schools. But it is impossible to visualize how many districts will be able to rehire teachers, draw up staffing patterns and assign kids to respective classrooms by opening day. Some schools on year-round schedules are already in session.  Others like those on traditional schedules at Natomas Unified near Sacramento already started classes on August 10.  Some districts like San Francisco and Fresno will open their doors on August 16 – next Monday.  West Contra Costa Unified will open on August 24.  Long Beach Unified will open on September 8.   Los Angeles Unified, which opens on September 13, may be in the best shape with a relatively late opening day of September 13.

On top of that, the Legislature is still gridlocked on coming up with a budget for the current fiscal year. Before federal funds can be sent to schools, Department of Finance officials tell me, the Legislature has to either have approved a budget, or pass special legislation authorizing expenditure of the funds. 

The actual timeline outlined in the law seems to conflict with the compressed timeline school districts face. The state has up to 30 days to apply from enactment, and the federal government then has up to 15 days to distribute the funds. Once money flows to the districts, local school boards have to ratify whatever decisions are made on how the funds will be spent. 

"The clock is ticking," said Maria Lopez, spokesperson for the California Department of Education. "We are very aware that the word needs to get out to the school districts as soon as possible."

That awareness extends to the U.S. Department of Education as well, which has pledged to accelerate the entire process. The department's website outlined the following scenario:

In order to ensure that states receive funding as quickly as possible, the department will streamline the application process so that states can submit applications within days. The department will award funding to states within two weeks of their submission of an approvable application.

The Department of Finance says districts will get funds based on the same formula that was used to allocate funds through the original stimulus allocation, the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.

But there are still uncertainties.  "Right now, we don't know what districts can expect to receive," the Department of Education's Lopez said. But she anticipates the state will get clarification on all of these issues soon "so districts can act with more assurance."

Lopez tried to downplay the obstacles. "The good news is that we have hope of getting the money, and we have a nice amount coming to California."  

That echoed the sentiments coming from Long Beach, which has been forced to lay off teachers for the first time in years. "The jobs bill brings a much needed infusion of funding that will help us to maintain services for students," said spokesperson Chris Eftychiou. "Once we have a better idea of how much funding we'll receive, we can decide more precisely how to use the funds."

For all this to work, officials will have to move far more rapidly than they typically do all along the bureaucratic chain, from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., then back to Sacramento, and to local schools. One thing that won't  and can't be delayed: Millions of California children will be showing up for school in the next few days and weeks, regardless of what anyone does or doesn't do.

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

Comments

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bstoked's picture
Our school district was told by their County Office of Education that when/if the funds arrive, they cannot be used in 2010-11 to re-hire any teachers laid off and worse, the funds would be required to be deposited into reserve accounts for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. Why? Because the forecasts are for such deep cuts in those years that the required reserves are in jeopardy and any new funds must go into reserves before they can go into the classroom. This is what not having on-time, rational state budgets is doing to our schools.
Speak_Up's picture
One thing that school districts and county offices of education need to remember is that the Jobs Bill was drafted to specifically use the $10 Billion for the 2010-2011 school year to maintain and rehire pink slipped teachers--ultimately lowering the class sizes so that students have a chance at sucess in school. If schools have already begun sessions, districts must remeber why they are in existence: to provide a good quality education to kids. The jobs bill came at a time when districts were forced to cut teachers, this funding is meant to be used to rehire teachers, period. If schools have already started and school districts are leery of opening classes, they must keep in mind the following: Not opening new classes after school has begun will have some negative affects on students: it may seem like time lost in the class. However, providing that districts are using pacing calendars, it should be insignificant when you consider the bigger picture. If students are floundering in overcrowded classes, which they will, it only stands to reason that one month lost in an overcrowded class is worth it if districts in turn open classes at lower student-to-teacher ratios for the remaining 9 months. Imagine your K-3 grade child as being one of those students. School districts have the responsibility of making sure that students succeed. Using their portion of $10 billion Jobs Bill funding would be irresponsible, selfish, and unforgiveable. Do the right thing, school districts. Our kids are counting on you.
ChildrenFirst's picture
You may want to refer to the California Department of Ed. before assuming that this money can be used to restore reserves: http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr10/yr10rel89.asp It reads: The House bill, H.R. 1586, approved last week in the U.S. Senate, authorizes $10 billion in education funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Once enacted, the funds will be available in the 2010-11 school year to retain, recall, or rehire former employees and to hire new employees to provide early childhood, elementary, or secondary educational services. Funds may not be used for general administrative expenses. Under the legislation, states may not use the funds directly or indirectly to: Establish, restore, or supplement a rainy day fund; Supplant state funds to establish, restore, or supplement a rainy day fund; Reduce or retire state debt; or Supplant state funds to reduce or retire state debt. The U.S. Department of Education has 45 days after enactment to award the funds, and governors have 30 days from enactment to submit their state's application. "We will work closely with the Governor and his Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss to submit a timely, well-written application so California's funding is approved and reaches school districts as quickly as possible. With these funds we hope to reduce the need for steep increases in class size this school year and keep more teachers; it is what parents want and children need," O'Connell said.
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