Is there a problem with the stimulus funds?

I hope not.

The debate over whether Texas lawmakers can use federal stimulus money to boost education spending, including funding a raise for teachers, is heating up.

The Obama administration warned states Thursday it may withhold millions of dollars if they use stimulus money to plug budget holes instead of boosting aid for schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the threat in a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, but it could have implications for Texas, Arizona and other states.

Texas state lawmakers approved a bill that included a minimum $800 raise for public school teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses and speech pathologists, but the money is contingent on approval from the Education Department to use federal stimulus funds. Legislators decided to use federal stimulus money to cover the funding the state puts into education over the next two years.


In the letter to Rendell, Duncan wrote he is displeased at a plan by Pennsylvania’s Republican-led Senate to reduce the share of the state budget for education while leaving its rainy-day surplus untouched. To do so “is a disservice to our children,” Duncan wrote.

Texas essentially did the same thing, increasing education funding for the next two years by $1.9 billion thanks to the boost from the federal government, while leaving the state’s rainy-day fund alone.

“That’s exactly the same thing Secretary Duncan said he has a problem with,” [Northside ISD Superintendent John] Folks said. House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said if it wasn’t for the stimulus money there would be no extra money for education.

“The counterargument is that if we weren’t going to get that money we weren’t going to touch rainy day anyway,” he said. “We would’ve had to cut expenditures.”

I dunno, while the situations are similar, I wouldn’t say they’re the same, mostly because of that $1.9 billion in extra funding to the schools. I know Rep. Scott Hochberg had a big role in crafting that legislation, and I know he worked at ensuring its compliance with federal requirements. If Hochberg thought it was okay, I’ll trust him. If Secretary Duncan sends a letter to Governor Perry like the one he sent to Governor Rendell, then I’ll worry.

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