From guest blogger Catherine Gewertz:
About a month ago, the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general’s office issued a memorandum that used Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts as examples of how states may be violating the spirit—if not the letter—of the law on using State Fiscal Stabilization Fund money. The states cried foul, noting that their plans for spending the money had been duly approved by the department, and that they had done nothing wrong. (See our story.)
Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville wrote to the Ed Department, expressing concern that the memo seemed to suggest that his state had violated the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s maintenance-of-effort provision. He also said he was concerned that it could harm the state’s chances of getting money from the stimulus program’s Race to the Top Fund.
Deputy Secretary Anthony W. Miller wrote back to Reville this week, saying that the department knows of no evidence, and “does not claim,” that Massachusetts violated the ARRA. He also said that while federal officials “might consider” a state’s reduction in education funding when considering its Race to the Top application, its chances of getting that money wouldn’t necessarily be affected. Besides, he said, it doesn’t seem that Massachusetts reduced the proportion of total state revenue it spends on education from one year to the next.
“Although we have taken steps to discourage States from reducing education funding, we fully recognize that SFSF funds are intended to help stabilize State and local budgets in order to minimize and avoid reductions in education and other essential services and that, under the current economic climate, States are forced to make difficult budgetary decisions and choices on the extent of State support for education and other vital public services,” Miller wrote.
(Hey, that sounds a lot like what the three states said when they were named in the IG’s memo.)