State to accept federal education funds

Posted: Friday, November 26, 2010

The state of Alaska will accept $23.5 million in federal Education Jobs Fund money aimed at preventing teacher layoffs, despite a lack of budget-driven layoffs.

The new money is part of a $10 billion federal program aimed at helping hard-pressed school districts around the nation, but Alaska got a share of the money despite its budget surpluses.

"These education dollars will help Alaska keep thousands of teachers in the classroom working with our students this school year," said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, announcing the award.

The money will be divided among Alaska school districts based on the formula used to distributed federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students.

Juneau is expected to get $440,000 of the amount, but a few districts won't be getting anything. Among those excluded are Pelican and Skagway.

In each state it was up to the governor to decide whether or not to accept the money, and Alaska made news last year when Gov. Sarah Palin turned down stimulus money. The Alaska Legislature called itself into special session to overturn Palin's veto, however.

This time, Larry LeDoux, commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development accepted the money on behalf of Alaska, state education officials said.

"Gov. Parnell delegated that to Commissioner LeDoux, and Commissioner LeDoux applied for the funds on behalf of the sate," said Paul Prussing, deputy director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Support for the department.

Most states have accepted the money, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry failed to provide adequate assurances that the money would be used properly, and his state's allocation was denied.

Prussing said Duncan's statement about saving "thousands" of jobs in Alaska is not entirely accurate for the state, but the money will likely help out some districts in special circumstances, such as those with declining enrollment in some areas.

Further, the money can be allocated quickly, but doesn't have to be spent until 2011, so there may be layoffs to prevent by then, he said.

While the money was billed as for layoff prevention, the U.S. Department of Education's guidance allows it to be spent on teacher salaries, performance bonuses, retirement costs, and other related expenditures.

Under federal rules, the Education Jobs Fund money can't be spent on administrative or overhead costs, and each district accepting the money will have to provide signed assurances that it will go directly to the classroom. Prussing said he did not expect that to be difficult for the districts to demonstrate.

The state has reported to the federal government it expects to spend 2 percent of the money on administrative costs, which it expects to be allowed, state officials said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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