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What Happened to that Facilities Money in the Stimulus?

Remember the compromise Congress came up with on school facilities in order to pass the economic-stimulus package? Proponents decided to ditch the billions in school construction grants to win support from moderate lawmakers for the overall stimulus. Instead, school districts were allowed to use a portion of their State Fiscal Stabilization Fund money (whatever was leftover after backfilling cuts) for school modernization, along with a whole bunch of other options.

Have any of them actually been able to take advantage of that? As we've written before, most of the $39 billion in state stabilization funding went to make up for cuts states had made to K-12 and higher education.

So far, it appears that just three states - Arkansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia - have been able to use a portion of the governor's share of state stabilization money for school modernization and repair, according to a preliminary analysis by the very knowledgeable folks at the 21st Century School Fund, which advocates for school facilities funding, particularly for districts that serve low-income students.

Of course, not all the state stabilization money has flowed just yet, so there could be more school modernization spending down the road. But my guess is that it will be in states that are in comparatively good financial shape, since others will need the money just to make up for what they've lost.

That leaves the school construction bonding authority in the stimulus. States are just beginning to spend one large piece of that, the $22 billion in school construction bonds. Some advocates are worried that needy school districts won't be able to take advantage of the bonds because they can't even put up the principle.

But Bob Canavan, of Rebuild America's Schools, a coalition that advocates for school facilities, tells me that the bonds are very popular. In fact, out in California, school districts submitted proposals for over $3 billion worth of projects, even though the state has an allocation of just $700 million for the bonds. The Golden State is holding a lottery to decide who gets the funding, which may be more efficient, but doesn't take need into account, some advocates say.

Right now, Congress is trying to get some grant money for school facilities, both in the Senate version of next year's education spending bill and in the "bombshell" student loan bill.

But many GOP lawmakers and some moderate Democrats contend the feds have other school responsibilities to take care of first, such as special education. And they're worried that if Congress starts putting up funding for facilities, school districts and states may stop doing it themselves.

I'm exploring how much the stimulus has helped schools with construction, and I'm looking for some local examples. If you're a superintendent or administrator who has been helped (or wish you had) by the school construction money in the stimulus, please email me or, better yet, post in the comments section. And if you're skeptical of the federal role in school construction, I want to hear from you, too.

UPDATE: The original version of this blog post listed two different states, Wyoming and North Dakota, as having used the governor's share of the state stabilization money for school facilities. But an Education Week analysis and the 21st Century Schools Fund found that it was actually West Virginia and Oklahoma.

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