State trying to trump local districts with stimulus money

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There's a large pile of money - 8-and-a-half-billion dollars - coming to California schools, courtesy of the federal economic stimulus package. But KPCC's Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde says a turf war in Sacramento may interrupt the flow of dollars to classrooms.

Kitty Felde: The brouhaha began earlier this month when the Legislative Analyst's Office in Sacramento recommended more than 3-and-a-half-billion dollars in cuts to education beyond the governor's recommendations. The state would use federal dollars from the Fiscal Stabilization Funds to fill in the gap.

Not so fast, said 28 members of Congress. They sent a cease-and-desist letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state schools chief Jack O'Connell. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who heads the state's Democratic delegation, says the letter followed conversations between lawmakers and local school superintendents.

Zoe Lofgren: Many of whom told us that they had been told not to spend this money, that the state was going to take it and that of course is not what we had in mind, nor do we think it is permitted under the Recovery Act that we enacted. And so we thought it would be a useful thing to remind the state that that was what the law, and we hope that that clarification will help.

Felde: The Legislative Analyst's Office defends its actions. It says the federal money should be part of the larger budget conversation. Otherwise, districts could face fiscal distress later in the year.

The L.A. Unified School District is expecting $386 million in stimulus money over the next two years. It would use half to backfill the general fund, and half for special programs like magnet schools and classes for English learners.

A spokesman for Governor Schwarzenegger says there aren't a lot of guidelines that instruct the state how to direct the federal money toward local districts. But he says the governor is "all for getting the money to school districts as soon as possible." L.A. Unified officials say federal money could begin arriving by the end of April.