February 19, 2009
Stimulus for the schools

Texas' public schools are set to get some much needed stimulus money.

Texas school districts can expect a jolt of more than $3 billion over two years under the $787 billion package ushered in by President Barack Obama's administration.

Under the bill, schools must spend much of the money on programs targeting children from low-income families and students with disabilities. That means large districts with more disadvantaged students will reap the most money -- the Houston Independent School District is expected to pocket $158.6 million -- though even the smaller, more affluent Friendswood ISD is slated to receive $1 million.

Officials at the Texas Education Agency, which will distribute the funds to local districts, still are reviewing the federal spending rules. But they expect tens of millions to go toward technology and also hope the federal funds can cover textbooks (the state's book fund is short) and hurricane-related school repairs.

"I don't think there's a shortage of wish lists. The needs are great," said Debbie Ratcliffe, a TEA spokeswoman. "This could help put people to work and improve the schools. But we've all got to be careful how we spend it and make sure it's on reasonable, needed projects."

Ratcliffe said the federal funds could help districts avoid layoffs, but it's unknown how many, if any, new school jobs will be created.

Just not laying people off should be considered a win, especially given the unemployment insurance situation. That will probably have a ripple effect on the various private employers who contract with schools and school districts as well.

Local district officials said they are reluctant to hire a slew of new staff because the federal funds are scheduled to dry up in two years.

"We don't want to hire a bunch of teachers and then have to do a reduction in force. That's very demoralizing for your staff," said Sarah Winkler, president of the Alief school board. "Whatever we do, it's going to be something we think we can sustain or something we think is a temporary need."

Maybe someday, when we're not spending hundred of billions of dollars a year on disastrous wars of choice in the Middle East, we can start thinking about spending some of that money on an ongoing rather than ad hoc basis for things like our schools. I know, I know, that's crazy talk. But I can dream, can't I?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 19, 2009 to Budget ballyhoo

If the "needs are great" for education dollars, and I am sure they are, why isn't the Texas state legislature doing something about it?

Posted by: Texano78704 on February 19, 2009 1:19 PM

I'm glad to see you mention the need for unemployment insurance reform. I read some great ideas for fixing our unemployment insurance system in an essay in the new book from the Progressive Ideas Network, Thinking Big.

Posted by: Orlando on February 19, 2009 2:25 PM
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