30 Aug State Tries to Access Federal Education Funds Held up by Rule (TX)

August 30, 2010

By: Karel Holloway
Source: The Dallas Morning News

State and federal education officials met in Washington on Friday but did not come to an agreement over $830 million in extra school funds Texas stands to receive.

"While today’s meeting did not produce an immediate solution, we will continue to work with the Department of Education and others to determine the best path forward to try to access these funds for Texas schools," Education Commissioner Robert Scott said in a statement.

Scott and the governor’s senior adviser Mike Morrissey met with U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Tony Miller and are working on a way to allow Texas to get the money despite conditions placed on the grant.

Those conditions are at the center of a dispute between Republican Gov. Rick Perry and a leading congressional Democrat from Texas, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin. Both are running for re-election.

Congress approved a bill earlier this month that provides $10 billion in aid to help prevent the loss of 160,000 education jobs nationwide. Texas’ share of that is about $830 million.

The state has until Sept. 9 to apply for the funds.

But Doggett included a special provision in the federal legislation, requiring Perry to assure that Texas will keep education funding at the current percentage of state appropriations through 2013.

Scott said that provision "makes it virtually impossible for the U.S. Department of Education to grant a waiver."

Doggett said he included that provision because Texas in the past has used federal stimulus money in place of state funding, rather than using it to boost overa ll education funding.

Perry’s office has argued that such an assurance would violate the Texas Constitution. He doesn’t control the budget and cannot bind a future Legislature, he has said.

"You don’t need a room full of attorneys to scour the Texas Constitution looking for excuses to deprive our local schools of these needed dollars," Doggett said in an e-mail.

While school districts have already approved their budgets, educators said the funds would be helpful.

"We’ve got everything paid for," said Mark Youngs, deputy superintendent in Keller. "It just means we’d take less out of the fund balance."

Many area districts approved budgets expecting to take money from the fund balance, or district savings account, to cover expenses.

The Dallas school district could gain between $26 million and $52 million, depending on how the money is distributed. But spokesman Jon Dahlander said the district won’t discuss spending the money until it is actually allocated.

Jackie Lain, director of governmental affairs for the Texas Association of School Boards, which has strongly lobbied for the allocation, said her organization just hopes Perry’s representatives will continue to look for a way to bring the money to Texas.

"The bottom line is districts desperately need this money," Lain said, "and we hope that the governor and department will continue to work together."

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