Commissioner on stimulus: Strings still attached
With his office inundated with questions, Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith sought this afternoon to provide all the information he had about the federal stimulus package to superintendents and school board leaders.
The biggest news: Even if the state wins access to $2.2 billion in education stabilization funds, there are still caveats to its use.
Districts would be accountable for showing improvements in the equitable distribution of teachers, maintenance of effort in funding, use of standards and assessment, and imposing corrective action on struggling schools. He added that he's seeking clarification on what that all means.
"Although these dollars have ... a broader use (than IDEA and Title I funds in the plan), they are not without some stipulations and requirements," Smith told the leaders during a 15-minute conference call.
He couldn't say when the money might come, how it might be distributed, or how it would affect the anticipated 16 percent budget cuts that districts face for the coming fiscal year. Those things are up to the U.S. Department of Education first, and then the state Legislature and governor.
More immediately, though, he could offer this: The stimulus package could stave off expected 2 percent budget cuts that districts otherwise might have to impose before the end of June.
"It appears that (the cuts) are not as certain to occur now because of some of the Medicaid dollars that are available in this act," said John Newman, Smith's director of policy and budget.
Smith promised to provide further updates to the district leaders as they become available.
Documents provided to superintendents for the call: Preliminary statewide stimulus allocations and National Governors Association analysis of stimulus on education.