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Schools need a stimulus

Posted: February 8, 2009 12:38 a.m.
Updated: February 8, 2009 4:59 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley school districts could benefit from the pending $780 billion federal stimulus package as long as education funding stays in the package.

"There is money in this stimulus program for special education and Title I. The money for special education would solve about 20 percent of our hole," Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger said. "It's of great interest to us."

The district could receive $700,000 for the its special education program, he said.

"We're interested in that money," Winger said. "The money that helps the general fund is this special education money."

Key senators and the White House reached tentative agreement on an economic stimulus measure at the heart of President Barack Obama's recovery plan and expect to pass the bill next week.

Two officials said the emerging agreement was for a bill with a $780 billion price tag, but there was no immediate confirmation.

The tentative agreement capped a tense day of back room negotiations in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, joined by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, sought to attract the support of enough Republicans to give the measure the needed 60-vote majority.

One Republican-proposed document outlined proposed cuts of more than $85 billion. Most of that - $60 billion - would come from money Democrats want to send to the states to avoid budget cuts for schools as well as law enforcement and other programs.

Talk of cuts in proposed education funds triggered a counterattack from advocates of school spending as well as unhappiness among Democrats.

The William S. Hart Union High School District could qualify for funding earmarked for modernization and repair, a major focus of the district.

"We could qualify for as much as $1.4 million, however, there are mandates that come with those," Hart district spokeswoman Pat Willett said.

"Until finalized, we don't even know what those would be," she said.

While funding for special education could be part of the measure, in the past, the state has taken away their share of funding for special education programs when the federal government made a contribution.

"We need some assurance that the state won't just assume that our needs are covered and withdraw some of the state funding," she said.

The stimulus package would provide a "significant benefit" to the Sulphur Springs School District's special education program, superintendent Robert Nolet said.

The language in the stimulus package remains a problem.

"The language needs to be very clear that this would pass directly through to school districts," Nolet said.

The money would take the edge of off proposed million-dollar budget cuts, he said.

"If increased money came directly to special education, we would have to spend less unrestricted money," he said. "That would allow us to use those unrestricted funds to look at some other programs that may be in dire shape as a result of the fiscal crisis going on. That's really where the hope is."

Funding from the stimulus package could restore what the state might cut with the proposed budget cuts, said Mike McGrath, Newhall School District board president.

"It would save us from further personnel cuts," he said.

Specifics about benefits to education remain in question and how much flexibility the district would have if education funds became available, he said.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Friday the GOP is ready to support a bill, "but we will not support an aimless spending spree that masquerades as a stimulus."

He added: "Putting another $1 trillion on the nation's credit card isn't something we should do lightly. We need to get a stimulus. But more importantly, we need to get it right."

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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