The economic stimulus plan rolling through Congress could pump $2-billion into Florida schools, easing the pain from yet another round of state budget cuts on tap for this spring.
The $825-billion package, backed by President Obama, sets aside at least $100-billion for K-12 education and $21.5-billion for colleges and universities.
A congressional analysis that began circulating widely Thursday estimates Florida school districts will get nearly $1.3-billion this year and $668-million in 2010.
Around Tampa Bay this year, the analysis estimates Pinellas could get $56.1-million; Hillsborough, $93.6-million; Pasco, $24.3-million; and Hernando, $9.1-million.
"It would be tremendous relief," said Hillsborough schools spokesman Steve Hegarty.
"This is a lot of money," said Ruth Melton, legislative director for the Florida School Boards Association.
But state and district officials also reacted cautiously, saying it remains unclear to what extent the federal money may come with strings attached.
The state Department of Education is certainly excited about the prospect of more money for schools, said spokesman Tom Butler. But "we really need to understand the details and requirements of the final package before we can estimate its impact on Florida."
Pinellas spokeswoman Andrea Zahn echoed that sentiment, saying that until more information is available about guidelines or restrictions, "it would be premature to predict how it could benefit the district."
Education groups throughout Florida have been awaiting details on the stimulus package for weeks. The Legislature cut education spending for the first time in decades in the spring and lopped off another $500-million in a special session this month. The cuts it will face in March are even bigger.
Much of the stimulus money is targeted for specific projects, including programs for low-income and disabled children, and school construction.
"When you're talking about the cuts we're experiencing, that's in the operating budget," Hegarty said. "It's my understanding that the stimulus would not be recurring funds. We're talking about two different pots."
The congressional analysis did not include all school-related spending in the package. By some estimates, there may be up to $200-billion for schools, said John Laughner, legislative manager for the Committee for Education Funding, which represents a board coalition of national education groups.
The group is conducting a more comprehensive analysis of the plan that could be out today.
Laughner said legislative leaders are pushing to get a bill to Obama by mid February.
The new president has "had a huge hand in what the bill looks like," he said. "I would think it would be really difficult for (Congress) to shoot down one of his first requests."
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Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.