Stimulus Aid: More Questions—and Answers

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Education Week Politics K-12 bloggers Alyson Klein and Michele McNeil continue gathering answers to questions on the $115 billion in education aid under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the recent economic-stimulus package. Here are highlights from some of their most recent blog posts. (For previous rounds of questions and answers, see Economic Stimulus Q&A, March 4, 2009.)

Q Has there been any clarification as to whether federal money will be available for independent schools?

A There's no money in the bill specifically for private or independent schools. But some private schools that serve students in special education do receive funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which got about $12 billion in the stimulus.

Any funds left over in the stabilization fund after states "backfill" their education budgets can go to any program authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act (and a number of other federal education laws). That would include Title V of NCLB, which is intended to support innovative programs. Private schools can indirectly benefit.

It's not yet known what the grant criteria will be for the $625 million in innovations grants. That money can go to nonprofits (which most private schools are) that partner with school districts or with a consortia of schools.

Note: There is a specific prohibition in the bill that says none of the money can go to provide financial assistance to students to attend private elementary or secondary schools. We’re taking that to mean "no vouchers."

Q Is there anything in the stimulus package to help charter schools?

A Much of the money flows through existing formulas, such as Title I or the IDEA, so any public charter school that benefits now from the formula will get a piece of the stimulus. The stabilization fund is used first to backfill cuts through the state’s school funding formula, so as long as the charter school gets money through the state’s funding formula, it would get money through the stabilization as well. Given the nature of the U.S. Department of Education’s innovation fund, it’s likely charter schools would be good candidates as well.

Charter schools may also be eligible for school bonding monies, including an expanded New Markets Tax Credit, which charter schools have already tapped.

Q Regarding special education, do you know of any accommodations for "maintenance of effort" that would allow districts to use the money to pay for programs that already exist?

A (Thanks to Education Week’s Christina A. Samuels, the author of the On Special Education blog, for answering this question.) The maintenance-of-effort provisions that currently exist within the idea will apply to stimulus funds. That means that a district can’t take all of its stimulus money and use that to pay for current special education programs.

There is, however, some flexibility in the "supplement, not supplant" provisions under the 2004 reauthorization of the idea. If the federal government allocates more money to a district from one year to the next, the district is allowed to take the difference between the two allocations, halve it, and use that figure to reduce its own funding requirements. So, if a district received $1 million in federal funds for one fiscal year, and $1.5 million the next fiscal year, the district is allowed to reduce its local funding requirements by $250,000.

But it’s also important to note there are other ways to use stimulus money without expanding programs and without having to maintain that effort when the money disappears. For example, a one-time expenditure on educational technology wouldn’t be a program expansion and wouldn’t be subject to maintenance of effort.

Vol. 28, Issue 24, Page 21

Published in Print: March 11, 2009, as Stimulus Aid: More Questions—and Answers
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