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More Money for Cash-Strapped Schools From Washington?

I'm sure you've heard by now that many states are still having to lay off teachers and cut programs, despite $48.6 billion in aid to help shore up state budgets in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Well, there may be more federal relief coming down the pike.

Congressional leaders and the Obama administration are considering increasing aid to states and localities to prevent layoffs as part of a new "jobs package". (They're not using the term "second stimulus," but it sounds kinda like that to me.) Obama laid out the plan in a speech today. He also highlighted the need to pour more money into building the nation's infrastructure. Some folks are wondering whether that could include school facilities, even though a planned school construction grant program nearly doomed the original stimulus. No word yet whether construction's on the table.

In a statement, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi specifically cited keeping "teachers, police, and firefighters on the job in our communities" as priorities in a new package.

No one is sure whether that would mean an expansion of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which was created under the first stimulus and has been administered by the U.S. Department of Education, or something new. And it seems that the Troubled Asset Relief Fund or TARP, otherwise known as the bank bailout, is being eyed to offset the cost of the education aid. That would be sure to stir up controversy in Congress.

An expansion of the SFSF would open the door to all kinds of possible questions. Would Congress consider reworking the language on the fund to make sure states can't supplant education funds and shift the money to other programs? Would states still need to sign off on the education-reform "assurances"?

Already, education organizations are letting congressional leaders and the administration know what they want to see in the potential jobs package. The National Education Association, a 3.2 million-member union based in Washington, sent a letter to members of the House of Representatives Dec. 3 asking that members consider including an education jobs fund in the new legislation. Here's a snippet of the NEA's argument:

Critical to such a package is the inclusion of an Education Jobs Fund to help save and create jobs that help students achieve, run our schools, and strengthen the middle class, while blunting the consequences of a funding cliff after the expiration of funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Also on the wish list: money for school facilities or an extension of school construction tax credits, and additional Title I grants for districts and special education money.

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