Stimulus could provide schools $4.54M

Published 11:59 pm Friday, April 3, 2009

More than 80 school superintendents and officials crowded into city hall Friday for a lesson of their own —how they will be allowed to use federal stimulus money to make up some of what was lost from the state education budget due to proration.

Assistant State Superintendent Craig Pouncey led the nearly two-hour discussion on how Ala-bama’s schools can best utilize the more than $525 million that will be available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“There has been some information sent out in past weeks that might have been a little confusing,” he said. “Obviously everything is changing every day and even what we tell you today may be subject to change. But we want to use this meeting to better help you understand what you will be receiving, not only in the stimulus package but also in the upcoming education budget — whenever it passes.”

The stimulus funds are primarily designed to fulfill three specific purposes. Some of the money will go toward Title I programs, which are focused on helping schools that have a high rate of poor students. Some of the money will go toward special education programs associated with the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. The rest of the money will be used to help save teaching jobs through the state’s fiscal stabilization fund.

Pouncey explained the federal government would require strict documentation of how the school systems spend their stimulus money. For example, money for the IDEA program must be spent on special education, not on any general education or capital improvement projects.

According to preliminary estimates, the breakdown for stimulus funding for Covington County’s three school districts is as follows: ACS is set to receive $1.3 million ($380,000 in Title I, $500,000 in IDEA and $404,000 in fiscal stabilization), Covington County Schools will get $2.3 million ($639,000 in Title I, $830,000 in IDEA and $769,000 in fiscal stabilization) and Opp City Schools is slated to receive $940,000 ($238,000 in Title I, $360,000 in IDEA and $330,000 in fiscal stabilization).

Other representatives from the state department of education explained that the parameters on stimulus spending do not necessarily mean that the money cannot also be used to help students in general education.

Mabrey Whetstone, special education director, said IDEA stimulus money could be used to purchase equipment that can benefit all students.

“One of the things you might want to look at is sound amplification equipment,” he said. “These programs actually work to amplify the teacher’s voice in a classroom, making it easier for the kids to hear. It’s a program that was designed to primarily help autistic students, but it’s something that can benefit everyone.”

Whetstone added the money could be used to fund extra positions, such as nursing services and job coaches, which would be funded through the IDEA funds.

Deann Stone, federal programs director for the state department of education, said it is imperative that school administrators properly document any money spent from the stimulus package.

“The key to remember is that this money is supposed to be used to supplement, not supplant,” she said. “You will be able to use some of this money to fill in the gaps in your budget — but only if you can document that you would not be able to fund these programs otherwise.

“We’re not sure exactly how this documentation will occur, but you need to start tracking right now how every penny of this money is spent in your district.”

Superintendents were told that the IDEA and Title I stimulus money would be awarded as a one-time-only grant, that would have to be spent by Sept. 30, 2011. The state fiscal stabilization funds will be awarded for the 2010 fiscal year, as well the following fiscal year.

“It’s up to you and your staff to manage these resources wisely,” Pouncey said.