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Early estimates put Minnesota’s school stimulus funds near $1.4B

Getting the details on the federal economic stimulus plan and its impact on Minnesota schools is like trying to work a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces. So far, all we’ve got is the big picture from D.C. officials.

Although congressional number-crunchers have yet to formally announce how much funding will benefits schools and students in Minnesota, a state education union official this afternoon pegged the rough figure at nearly $1.4 billion.

We know the compromise bill – passed this afternoon by the House — totals $787 billion. And we know the House and Senate are planning on dishing out $105.9 billion of that nationwide for what’s called “investments in education and training.” (You can find some details of that payout nationally at the U.S. House of Representatives website. PDF

A spokeswoman for 4th District Rep. Betty McCollum says press officials for the Education and Labor Committee figure those numbers won’t be out until next week – sometime after President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

Luckily, the National Education Association already has done some digging, and its diligent researchers released their calculations this afternoon, funneling them along to its 70,000-member local teachers’ union, Education Minnesota.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher feels “pretty confident” its affiliate is right in saying $1.393 billion in education stimulus money is coming to Minnesota over two years. Tracking money for education is, after all, the NEA’s business.  

Here are the numbers it came up with:
• State fiscal stabilization fund: $815.7 million. Some of those dollars can be used to avoid school employee layoffs, Dooher believes.

• Federal Pell grants: $224.3 million. Pell grants help low-income students attend college. In Minnesota, about 80,000 students at private and public educational institutions, or one in four undergraduates, receive such aid.  The stimulus plan will increase the maximum Pell grant by $500. Good news for cash-strapped college students.

• Special Education funding would jump by $187.5 million. “That will really help our districts out,” Dooher said, given that the federal government has been paying only about 17 percent of the cost of special education instruction since it came into being in 1974. That, despite the feds originally promising to pay 40 percent. The new fed contribution is about 30 percent.

• Title I: $87 million for the tutoring program for poor kids who are academically behind their school peers. Maybe we’ll see a narrowing of the achievement gap.   

• School improvement grants: $27.2 million. That amount includes new construction, remodeling and modernization of schools and translates into about 2,900 jobs, according to the NEA. 

In addition, our youngest citizens would benefit from $20.6 million for Head Start programs and $25.2 million for Child Care and Development Block grants that cover preschool, parenting and nutrition classes.

State  Education Commissioner Alice Seagren was unavailable to comment today, but the department released a statement from her deputy, Chas Anderson, promising to thoroughly review the final version of the 1,000-page stimulus bill to “gauge its full impact on Minnesota schools.”

Officials expect most of the federal education dollars to flow through the usual state channels, for instance, using existing federal funding formulas for programs such as special education and Title I.   

McCollum said the numbers are slow in coming because of the changes that led to the compromise bill.

Bottom line, she said, the stimulus is about creating jobs.  “We’re in an economic 9-1-1. It is not the intent of this federal legislation to fix every shortfall in all 50 states. The intent is to stop Minnesotans and Americans from losing their jobs at such accelerated rates and attempt to give states the opportunity to put people back to work.” 

In addition to at least 2,900 construction jobs, the NEA says, other jobs should be saved by preventing school layoffs.

For more on the effect of the stimulus on classrooms across the nation, check out the Education Week website.  

Cynthia Boyd writes on education, health, social issues and other topics.  She can be reached at cboyd [at] minnpost [dot] com. 

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