The House version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1) was introduced on January 26th and approved on January 28th. This $816 billion dollar economic stimulus bill includes significant funding for educational programs, mostly but not entirely in the form of federal-through-state grant programs.
On the day of the vote, Florida Senate President Jeff Atwater send a letter to Florida's congressional delegation outlining his sense of what Florida most needed from the federal legislation. He asked for flexibility in education programs, citing teacher performance pay as an example where this is most needed.
PRELIMINARY CALCULATIONS RELEASED
Before the actual legislation was approved, the Congressional Research Service calculated estimated of the amount of education funding that each school district will receive from certain aspects of the just-approved House version of American Recovery and Reinvestment bill. Specifically, this document estimates what each school district will receive under the bill’s program allocations (not including the $79 billion State Stabilization Fund) for Title I ($11 billion), IDEA ($13 billion), and K-12 School Modernization ($14 billion) over FYs 2009 and 2010.
Keep in mind that these CRS numbers are preliminary estimates only, and are based on information that may not have been reflected in the actual act, which may well change in conference, and even then will be subject to further calculations, adjustments, and rescissions. Although this document is authoritative, it will almost certainly not precisely reflect final allocations.
SOME NEW INCENTIVES AND/OR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES WILL EMERGE
Other grant programs in this bill will require development by the U.S. Secretary of Education. He has already indicated his interest in using the authority and funding under these grant programs to promote the development and implementation of rigorous standards. It is likely that these will measures will seek to promote more consistency in standards among states, or to promote adoption of voluntary national standards as conditions for the federal assistance.
See Education Week article at http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2009/01/duncan_incentive_grants_may_be.html
WHAT TO WATCH
The Senate has not yet voted on its own version (S. 1) of this bill. It is expected to do so by mid-February.
At $816 billion, this is an enormous commitment of funds even by Washington standards, with as much as $30 billion (for all areas) being directed to Florida over the next two federal budget years. It was also passed without any bipartisan votes whatsoever. The upcoming Senate debate will have to address both of these concerns. Public expectations are high, so the debate is likely to be both swift and intense.
The issue regarding the minimum threshold to receive federal funding will need to be addressed of Florida is to receive funds under this act.
It is worth noting that action regarding the emergency stimulus bills may delay Senate action on the regular nine federal budget bills, although these bills are expected to pass on time. This may have the peculiar and unintended consequence of delaying some interim budget planning, even for programs addressed in the stimulus bills.
In an unusual move, the Governor has indicated that he will include the expected revenue from this act in his budget proposal to the Legislature next month.
In another unusual move, the Florida Legislature borrowed $700 million from the state's Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund (arising from the tobacco settlements) with the promise to repay this amount from the expected revenues from this federal stimulus bill. This $700 million is being used to close gap in state current year (FY09) budget.
HOW MUCH DOES THIS REALLY HELP?
School districts may need to address local questions about how this federal package will ease local cutbacks. While this certainly does help, it's hard at this point to say how much. Unfortunately, authoritative answers to those questions may be some time coming. Although it seems clear that it was the intent of the House to help mitigate widespread loss of state and local funding for education, remember that all of the usual restrictions about the use of federal funds are still in place. For example, all of the "supplement, not supplant" rules are in full force, all of the allowability regulations are unchanged, and the requirements for maintenance of effort are still in effect.
POSSIBLE ELIGIBILITY PROBLEM FOR FLORIDA?
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act limits availability to states that have funded education at the same level they did in FY06. However, Florida's current FY09 budget is already lower than that threshold. In fact, Florida's funding for FY08 is actually lower than in FY05.
As it stands now, Florida will be technically ineligible to receive these additional federal funds. Some attempts were made in the House to include waiver language that would have assisted Florida but this was not included in the final version. It may be added as the Senate addresses its version of the bill. The Florida School Boards Association, several Florida representatives, and both Florida Senators are working on solutions to this problem.