The stimulus package's $54 billion for schools is the largest ever investment in the Department of Education. You better believe that states, many of them facing budget crises, are eager to get their hands on the dough. But there's a catch. Before any state can access the dollars, they must promise to "maintain service." That means avoiding draconian cuts to education by maintaining 2005-2006 levels of funding. The underlying message to governors and legislatures was simple: Find a way to balance your budget that does not directly disadvantage children.
But after intense lobbying from states that planned on cutting education budgets anyway, the Obama administration agreed to consider waivers for individual states. Now the jockeying for a waiver has begun, with Florida leading the charge
. That state cut its education budget by $600 million from the 2006 level, and now stands to lose $2.7 billion in federal funds if not granted a waiver.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said
he'd like to get the stimulus money into the hands of each state. Here's the problem: By allowing for the waiver process in the first place, Congress and the administration lost their ability to strongly influence state budget priorities. Yes, many states are required to balance their budgets, and that isn't easy in this economic climate. Yet governors and legislators have a way of sending their knives for the schools when cuts need to be made. In Florida's case, Senators Bill Nelson
and Mel Martinez
the federal government to show sympathy for Florida families affected by unemployment and foreclosures. But if Florida itself were serious about that, its Republican legislators would, for example, raise the cigarette tax to prevent cuts to children's services. Instead, Gov. Charlie Crist
, who has lately taken to appearing in public with Obama
, is so confident of an infusion of federal dollars that he is considering
a state constitutional amendment to cut the property tax.
–cross-posted at TAPPED