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Money for School Operating Costs Could Be in Stimulus

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Cash-strapped school districts may see an infusion of federal aid in a sweeping stimulus package being crafted by Congress and President-elect Barack Obama.

But it isn't clear yet whether the measure will contain dollars earmarked specifically for K-12 schools in the form of, say, more Title I or special education money, or more general aid to states that would help protect districts from massive budget cuts.

Three governors—Jon Corzine of New Jersey, a Democrat; James E. Doyle of Wisconsin, a Democrat; and Jim Douglas of Vermont, Republican—testified before the House Appropriations Committee today on the need for state aid so that there aren't massive to cuts to programs, including K-12 education. They talked a lot about school construction, which Mr. Obama highlighted in his radio address over the weekend, and money to improve math and science education, at least partly through expanded broadband Internet access.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., said schools in her congressional district are facing potential hiring freezes and possible layoffs of teachers. She asked the governors how Congress could help with schools' operating costs.

Doyle said money for states, and particularly for the Medicaid program, would help states spare K-12 education. But Corzine said he'd like to see "some kind of block grant," possibly geared just for schools.

"Count two for that plan," Wasserman-Schultz said. "I coudn't agree with you more."

It also looks like funding for Pell Grants and other federal student aid has a good shot of making it into the stimulus bill. In addition to the governors, the committee heard from Sandy Baum, a national expert on student financial aid who consults for the College Board.

Baum said demand for higher education has increased because of the slowing economy, and she urged lawmakers to make college aid a "clear focus" of the stimulus package.

Her comments were pretty predictable, but what's notable is that Baum was on a pretty short list of experts testifying on a spending package that could cost more than a trillion dollars and touch on everything from energy to health care to transportation. The fact that the committee included her on the witness list that had three governors and just two other experts says a lot about college aid's chances in the bill.

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Any stimulus bill should get more math and science teachers at all levels into the classroom. Funding should be subject to the streamlining of the education rules regarding teacher applicants, teacher testing and licensing paperwork.

Standards should not get in the way of reasonable teacher capabilities. A point here or there should not preclude a good teacher from entering the classroom.

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