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California schools have used all their stimulus money

State auditors drew widespread media attention in August with a report suggesting that tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus money for schools had gone unspent and were at risk of reverting back to the U.S. Department of Education.

But newly released data  from the California Department of Education shows that only a small percentage of that money is at risk of reverting and more than likely, virtually all of the stimulus funds given schools in California have already been expended.

For instance, of the nearly $4.9 billion dollars given local educational agencies from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund – schools have expended all but $1.3 million, or 99.97 percent.

Funds delivered under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for special education totaled nearly $1.3 billion and all but $716,533 has been expended.

There is $7.1 million in unexpended ARRA Title I money provided California schools but CDE officials say they intended to get a federal waiver allowing a funding switch that will ensure that money also does not revert.

The spending data comes from ARRA reports LEAs made to the CDE as of September 30.

Paul Hefner, communications director for state schools chief Tom Torlakson, said that the superintendent’s office is not surprised that schools have spent virtually all the stimulus money.

“Schools knew the deadlines and they certainly had the need,” he said. “Schools have the ability to put dollars to work in a local community quickly – whether it is preserving jobs either teachers or classified employees or in modernization projects.”

Hefner noted that Torlakson has been an outspoken supporter of President Barack Obama’s most recent stimulus-jobs proposal that would protect nearly 400,000 educator jobs nationally while modernizing at least 35,000 public school buildings and community college campuses throughout the U.S.

State Auditor Elaine Howle said in an August report that California schools had reported spending about $6 billion of the $6.3 billion in ARRA funds, as of the end of June.

Given that federal spending deadlines loomed, Howle warned that there were risks that all of the money would not be expended in time.

Hefner noted, however, that the CDE had been careful to keep districts aware of the coming deadlines and the bigger balances that the auditors found were more likely the result of LEAs trying to finds ways to stretch their ARRA dollars as long as possible given the economic challenges they have been facing.

Ed’s Note: Cabinet Report is dedicated to covering K-12 education issues in California. To subscribe visit http://www.siacabinetreport.com/home.aspx Selected stories have been shared with Capitol Weekly with permission from School Innovations & Advocacy, owner and publisher. To contact reporter Tom Chorneau: tomc@sia-us.com

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