Schools Say Stimulus Package Is Too Late

President Obama said in his address to Congress Tuesday that education is one of his top priorities. He's offering up $115 billion toward schools in his stimulus package. However, local school officials say that money may not be enough.

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President Obama said in his address to Congress this week that education is one of his top priorities, and there is $115 billion in the stimulus package for the nation's schools. That money is supposed to arrive just in time to avert huge layoffs of teachers and staff caused by state budget shortfalls, but many school officials say they still have to make deep cuts. NPR's Larry Abramson reports.

LARRY ABRAMSON: The Marion County public school district, an hour or so north of Orlando, Florida, has already sent layoff notices to over 500 of its 3,000 teachers. Kevin Christian says he still doesn't know how much stimulus money his district will get.

Mr. KEVIN CHRISTIAN (Marion County Public School District): But do we think we're going to get significant dollars that we'll be able to put into salaries versus other expenses? No, we really don't.

ABRAMSON: Kevin Christian says the district can't make long term commitments to hire teachers based on a stimulus package that lasts for two years. He says the budget crisis in his county has deep roots and a temporary stimulus won't wipe that out.

Mr. CHRISTIAN: We are looking down a tunnel and unfortunately we don't see any light at the end of it yet.

ABRAMSON: You hear the same thing from many other school officials who say the stimulus cannot fill their gaping education deficit, which is amazing if you consider how big the stimulus package will be for some school districts.

Mr. RAY CORTINES (School Superintendent): We're cutting several hundred million.

ABRAMSON: Ray Cortines is superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second largest district. He says next year he's facing a shortfall of $600 million. So for Cortines the stimulus package is too little and too late.

Mr. CORTINES: I do not think it will come in time for budgeting purposes this year.

ABRAMSON: Because, Cortines says, he has to send out layoff notices to potential victims in the next couple of weeks to meet contract obligations. School districts in Michigan have been told that they will avoid a cutback in state support courtesy of the stimulus package. That may overt layoffs, but Grand Rapids superintendent Bernard Taylor says his district still must cut spending because costs are going up.

Mr. BERNARD TAYLOR (School Superintendent): And there's nothing about the use of those funds that address what our health care cost increases are now, what our retirement cost increases will be in the future.

ABRAMSON: The Department of Education is still figuring out regulations for how districts can spend the money. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with state school chiefs Wednesday to get that process moving. If this all sounds grim, remember this: education officials seldom say I don't need any more money.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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