Questions arise about spending federal funds for Calif. teachers

"We'd rather be teaching" reads the sign of Shari Suda, math department chair for Ladera Ranch School. File photo.
Marla Schevker/KPCC

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California educators are elated that the federal government plans to send California about $1.2 billion for teacher jobs. Those educators also have a lot of questions.

The federal government’s made clear that it wants California to use its share to hire, rehire, or retain 16,500 teachers.

Lara Cruchley’s mother called her with the news. Cruchley’s a high school English teacher the Anaheim school district laid off this year. "I’m keeping my fingers tightly crossed, I’m very excited, and again, waiting by the phone, waiting for them to call me," she said.

It’ll be at least a month before state lawmakers tell the government how and when they plan to distribute the money, said California Department of Education spokeswoman Maria Lopez, so Cruchley and public school districts will have to hold tight.

"We don’t have a lot of information about how the money will be distributed. We’re working on getting clarification on that. And as soon as we know we’ll be posting information on our web site and alerting school districts to how to apply and what the criteria will be," Lopez said.

California's Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that school districts laid off about 15,000 teachers for the coming academic year. El Monte City School District Superintendent Jeffrey Seymour wonders whether he’ll have the flexibility and time to rehire the 26 teachers he let go.

"What kind of teacher could be hired, could music teachers be rehired, or does it have to be regular classroom teachers?" he said.

Then there’s the question of who’s first in line for re-hiring. Joanne Fawley, teachers’ union president at Anaheim Union High School District, said teachers unions should have a say in those decisions.

"The district can’t plan on speculative money. They need to know the exact amount and when it will be received then they can begin making decisions in consultation with our association," Fawley said.

School districts have already determined class sizes and layoffs for the coming term. The more agile districts will be able to turn on a dime. The federal windfall has the potential to erase the education layoffs the districts carried out earlier this year.