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Proposed act could provide financial aid to local schools

By Staff | Jan 20, 2009

Public education in Florida could see relief from the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama’s economic team, who have introduced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The Lee County School District and thousands of others across the country have felt the pinch from dropping state revenues and a stagnant economy. The Florida Legislature cut approximately $500 million from public education during its special session earlier this month, which amounts to $140 per student.
Already the school district lost millions of dollars this year and cut hundreds of jobs as the result of low student enrollment and state cuts.
Budget experts with the district anticipate an additional $40 million or $50 million in losses next year, and Superintendent James Browder said the district could eliminate as many as 400 jobs in the 2009 to 2010 school year.
These cuts are not isolated to the Lee County School District or the state of Florida. According to the National School Boards Association, they have reverberated through 49 million public schools and 14,350 school districts.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would invest $41 billion for high priority needs in public school systems, according to the NSBA, by providing Title I grants for disadvantaged students, special education, infrastructure improvement, technology in the classroom and teacher quality.
The legislation is designed to send $13 billion to Title I programs, $13 billion within the Individuals with Disabilities Act, a School Modernization and Repair Program worth $14 billion and $1 billion for the Education Technology Program, according to the bill’s executive summary. An additional $79 billion is earmarked in the bill to local school districts to prevent programs from being cut.
A statement by Anne Bryant, executive director of the NSBA, supports the act, which will invest in public education.
“An investment in our schools is an investment in America’s future,” she said. “This legislation couldn’t come at a more critical time for our school districts and our nation.”
The 2009 Legislative Platform for the Florida School Boards Association asks to “reinstate the state’s proportionate share of K-12 education funding, restore funding for cuts made during the 2007-2008 fiscal year and avoid additional cuts to education funding.”
Ruth Melton, director of Legislative Relations for FSBA, said the organization has not had a chance to dive deeply into the proposed legislation because it was introduced last week.
“We certainly believe the best economic recovery has its roots in public education,” said Melton. “Those measures that support our schools will repay the costs several times over.”
Melton said that on its face FSBA supports the legislation because of the increases in funding for both IDEA and Title I, but said she wants to give all members a chance to review the bill.
Besides K-12 public education, the bill also sets funding aside for higher education. It would put $15.6 billion to increase the Pell Grant for prospective college students and $6 billion to modernize higher education.