Federal stimulus money intended for public education in Texas has been challenging to spend, time-consuming to keep track of – and will be very hard to replace.
That was the message from several school officials to a Texas legislative subcommittee meeting Wednesday in Richardson.
"What happens next? That is the number one concern of our school districts," said Sandy Maddox, deputy director for Region X of the Texas Education Agency.
The public hearing – at which no member of the public spoke – was called by state Rep. Carol Kent. The first-term Democrat chairs the education subcommittee of a select committee tasked with tracking how Texas spends the stimulus money.
The state is slated to receive more than $16 billion in stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A little more than $3 billion is going to public education.
Kent, Rep. Robert Miklos, D-Mesquite, and Republican Rep. Angie Button, in whose district the meeting was held, heard a familiar litany of concerns about the federal money.
Tony Harkleroad, the Richardson school district’s assistant superintendent for finance, explained the challenges he has faced: The money was approved very late in the district budget cycle for this school year and came with many restrictions and accounting requirements.
The rules for using t he money were issued long after the deadline for application, and continued to change as recently as this week. And because the grants were intended to be given only once, he needed to find ways to spend the money that did not create ongoing costs.
The district ended up with about $13.3 million to spend over two years and has spent about 40 percent of the money it plans to use this school year, he said.
Like Maddox, Miklos said he was concerned about what could happen if the federal money dries up and the state is unable to maintain school funding levels.
"It sounds like we are setting ourselves up for a serious [general revenue] problem when these … funds go away," Miklos said.
A senior adviser to Gov. Rick Perry had no answers. It’s too soon to know how big the shortfall might be, and the governor is committed to funding education, Mike Morrissey told the committee. But he made no promises about how much money would be available for schools.
"Texas is not immune from the national economy," he said. "It will be a challenge."