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Urban Schools Face $4 Billion Deficit

Urban schools put the billions in funding received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic-stimulus law passed by Congress last year, to quick use, keeping nearly 65,000 workers employed—about 50,000 of them full-time, according to a new study released today.

But the study, published by the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, forecasts a decline of at least $4 billion in revenue for the nation's urban districts for the 2010-2011 school year, absent another infusion of cash into the nation's schools, such as the $23 billion edujobs bill the council and others have been supporting.

Michael D. Casserly, the executive director of the association, is appearing with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, at an event in the Big Apple to discuss the report and promote passage of the edujobs bill. Duncan sent a letter late last week to Congressional leaders, asking them to pass the measure as part of a war appropriations package soon to hit the Senate floor.

"Urban school districts should be commended for the productive and responsible ways they used the federal stimulus dollars," Casserly said in a prepared statement. "Public education continues to be worth the investment of Congress, the Obama Administration, and citizens of the nation."

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the House Education Committee, used the report's release this morning to call on his Senate colleagues to pass the edujobs bill.

"We won't be able to maintain the success of the Recovery Act if our students can't continue to build on the progress they've made. Congress needs to act swiftly to help keep teachers in the classroom and students learning," he said in a prepared statement.

The council's survey is based on responses from 40 big city school districts and represents the spending of more than $7.2 billion in economic-stimulus funding. School districts sought waivers to help them spend the stimulus funds quickly and and across a variety of platforms.

The most common wavier sought was of the Title I provision that requires school districts to set aside 20 percent of the funding to pay for supplemental education services, such as tutoring. Duncan opposes this provision and proposes eliminating it in the blueprint he submitted to Congress for re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known to most of us as the No Child Left Behind Act.

Urban districts used the money to do more than save jobs, however.

In Boston, for example, some of the funds from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund were used to pay for professional development and new materials and assessments for use with English-language learners. The Anchorage, Alaska school district used the money to help with its technology reorganization initiative, moving some tech-support teachers back into instructional roles and placing IT support staff in its schools.

The economic-stimulus funding sometimes means expanding services to other students not previously covered by Title I funding, as the Des Moines, Iowa and Miami-Dade County, Fla. school systems did, or expanding learning time for students and creating new new classes with virtual courses, as the Houston school district did.

You can read many more examples of how school districts have used stimulus funding in the full report, linked above.

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