The U.S. Department of Education is changing its tune on whether state stabilization fund money can—and should—be used to pay for new school construction.
In April, the department issued its first round of guidance on the stabilization fund, declaring that new school construction was, indeed, an allowable use of funds (because of a big loophole in the stimulus legislation.) But yesterday, the department backed off. In a big way. Not only is the department discouraging states and school districts from using stabilization fund money for new construction (renovations and repairs are okay), officials strongly hinted that any state or district that does so will be penalized when it comes time for the department to award Race to the Top money.
So what happened between April 1 and now?
Apparently, Republicans have been squawking about the department’s guidance for a while, most recently in a meeting last week on a House bill on the 21st Century High Performing Public Schools Act. During the congressional debate on the stimulus package, school construction was a huge bone of contention for most Republicans and some moderate Democrats, who didn’t want a big chunk of stimulus money to go for new construction. So a $14 billion (in the House) and $16 billion (in the Senate) line item for new construction got zeroed out.