Barbour applies for federal ed funds

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour on Thursday applied for $98 million in federal funds to help cash-strapped school districts, but again urged them to save the money until next year.
The funds are part of $26 billion approved by Congress in August to help states fund education and other services that have been hit hard by the slowdown in tax collections.
The $98 million is one of two pots of money the state is receiving through the federal package. Called job funds, the $98 million is designed to retain or rehire school personnel, particularly teachers, who have lost jobs because of current budget woes.
The other pot of money comes from a reduction in how much the state has to pay to draw federal Medicaid funds. The new rate means money previously earmarked for the Medicaid match is freed for other areas.
The 2010 Legislature, with the governor’s agreement, had designated $82 million of that money for local school districts for the current year. But now Barbour says the money freed up by the enhanced federal Medicaid match will be saved for the next fiscal year.
The governor can save that money, but the school districts have discretion on when to spend the jobs funds.
“To the extent they need to use that money for this year, they should use it,” state House Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson said.
Some fear that the 2011 Legislature and governor will count the jobs funds as part of the appropriation for the school districts for the upcoming fiscal year. Then if they spend the money this year, the districts will be in a hole.
Brown said he would oppose efforts to count the federal jobs funds as part of their 2012 appropriation.
Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, expecting a tough budget year, said saving the money would be “the wise thing for school districts to do.” But, he said, “As for how to count that money for 2012, I think it is premature to consider that.”
Pete Smith, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the funds will be disbursed based on the Adequate Education Formula, which is used to distribute most state funds to the schools. Plus, the districts will get the funds as they spend them.
The districts are underfunded more than $230 million for the current year.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.