School leaders hoping act will save teacher jobs

Published 3:28 pm Saturday, February 28, 2009

Officials in the Albert Lea School District are waiting for more accurate figures on the economic-stimulus package. Right now, everyone is working from very rough estimates.

An analysis from the Congressional Research Service estimates the Albert Lea School District will get about $1.1 million.

However, because of confusion over how the money can be used, local education officials don’t know if that will result in saving teacher jobs in the district, which suffers from declining enrollment.

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The Minnesota Department of Education indicates the funding will be distributed using existing federal funding sources of Title I (federal assistance to schools with a higher percentage of low-income families) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (special education).

Superintendent Dave Prescott said the federal government has never funded special education at the 40 percent level as first promised in 1976. He said it presently is at 15 percent and has been as low as 9 percent. With the stimulus funding, it would up to about 22 percent, he estimated.

Here’s the rub: Will that extra funding require the district to maintain the higher spending level on special education after the first three years when no stimulus money remains, or when the district puts the extra funding to its special education budget, can it move the resulting overage to the general fund?

Doing so is called cross-subsidation, and Prescott hopes to get answers whether it will be allowed. If it is, it means keeping some teacher jobs in the next three academic years.

He inquired about it Saturday during a visit with 1st District Congressman Tim Walz.

Walz said it is the state’s decision and said he is working with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Education Commissioner Alice Seagren and, in case legislation is needed, state lawmakers.

“Our assumption is that in the end it will and it shouldn’t be a problem,” Walz said.

Prescott and Walz said they expect Pawlenty and Seagren to announce a decision this week.

Congressional Research Service estimates the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $797,000 for special education in the Albert Lea district and $306,000 for Title I funding.

Prescott said it looks like the requirements for the Title I allocation won’t save general teachers but will bolster the Title I program for three years. In other words, Albert Lea will have a extra Title I teachers for three years, then go back to prior levels.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriates $53.6 billion to states for education and $821.4 million to Minnesota for education, according to Congressional Research Service estimates.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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