04/02/09 — Wayne schools to receive $8.5 million in stimulus money

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Wayne schools to receive $8.5 million in stimulus money

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 2, 2009 1:46 PM

Wayne County Public Schools is slated to receive an estimated $8.5 million through the federal stimulus package, it was announced Wednesday.

Congressman G.K. Butterfield said schools in his district could see more than $78 million in funding. Of that amount, Butterfield, who represents parts of 23 counties in eastern North Carolina, said the stimulus includes $37 million for Title I schools and another $41 million for funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In Wayne County, that breaks down to $4 million for Title I schools and $4.5 million for IDEA, which provides funding for education of children with disabilities.

Title I is the largest federal elementary and secondary education program. Of Wayne County's 33 public schools, 16 are categorized as Title I schools.

The announcement is part of the U.S. Department of Education's proposed release of the first $44 billion in economic stimulus money for education.

The disbursement of the funding is expected to begin immediately, with the second installment later this fall.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said strings will be attached to the next round of aid.

As part of the Obama administration's efforts to save thousands of teacher jobs and overhaul the nation's schools, the economic stimulus bill is double the education budget of President George W. Bush.

The administration on Wednesday made available half the dollars for federal programs that pay for kindergarten through 12th grade and special education. Duncan will also reportedly provide applications for states to get money from a special fund to stabilize state and local budgets.

Local officials said they are excited about the anticipated funding, particularly in light of the economy.

"By the sound of things, the stimulus will be distributed over a two-year period. We're very much in the planning stages of this," said Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools.

Taylor said the district had not received word as to how the money can be spent at this point. He anticipates several meetings in the near future to discuss the guidelines and how funding will be directed.

One state, South Carolina, has already refused to take the money. Gov. Mark Sanford reportedly doesn't want the money because he can't use it to pay off debt. While officials can't circumvent Sanford, White House budget director Peter Orszag said the stimulus law requires Sanford's approval.

At the same time, Orszag said, "It would be unfortunate (and we believe an unintended) policy outcome if the children of South Carolina were to be deprived of their share of federal stimulus dollars ... because the governor chooses not to apply for stimulus funds."

While federal funding typically mandates strict criteria, loopholes created by Congress could allow states and school districts to spend the money on other things, such as playground equipment or new construction. At the same time, it could also let lawmakers cut state aid and replace it with stimulus dollars, leaving school districts without additional aid.

Duncan said as recently as last week that he will "come down like a ton of bricks" and withhold the second round of funds from anyone who defies Obama's wishes.

This week he outlined a series of steps that must be taken to receive the next round of funding. These include states reporting on teacher quality and evaluation systems; schools restructuring under the No Child Left Behind law and charter schools, which receive public money but operate with more independence that regular schools; and scores on state and national tests to show whether standards are rigorous enough. States must also report on how many high school graduates go on to earn college credits.

The information will be used to adopt more common standards among states, which has long been a controversial issue.

"The fact is, having 50 different state standards just doesn't work," Duncan said. "Which is why we have called for states to adopt higher standards that truly prepare young people for college or work."

-- The Associated Press also contributed to this story.