Steinberg creates flap over Edujobs dollars
Scolded for his candor, Sen. President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is back on message: The gift $1.2 billion that Congress will soon be sending California’s way will supplement, not supplant, state education dollars.
To what extent it will is far from certain.
Steinberg was caught Tuesday in the crossfire in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Carly Fiorina and Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer after Sacramento Bee reporter Kevin Yamamura reported that Steinberg said the extra education money Congress passed this month will “help plug the state’s $19 billion deficit.” (Clarification: The phrase in quotes was the reporter’s words, not the senator’s.)
That’s not supposed to be the purpose. California’s share of the $10 billion Edujobs bill is intended as a one-time job relief, to put many of the 16,500 laid off teachers back to work, not fix the state’s fiscal mess per se.
Fiorina used the Bee post to bash Boxer, who fought for the extra federal spending: “Another day, another broken promise from Barbara Boxer,” said a campaign press release.
It didn’t take long for Boxer to get on the horn to Steinberg’s office and to send out her own press release, reminding him, though not directly by name, “This funding can only be used to save education jobs that serve our children in public schools – and nothing else.”
It didn’t take long for Steinberg to clarify his statement – sort of – by issuing a statement blasting Fiorina for distorting his comment in the Bee. “News flash to Fiorina: keeping teachers on the job does help the state balance its budget. Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget proposes to slash school funding by billions, which would result in thousands of teacher layoffs throughout the state. This is an outcome that Senator Boxer and Senator Steinberg want to avoid.”
Schwarzenegger’s proposed spending $49 billion on K-12 schools in his revised budget in May. Steinberg and Democrats in the Legislature are calling for spending $52 billion.
The extra $1.2 billion from the feds could indeed help bridge the difference, which is what Steinberg implied in the Bee article. But that wouldn’t please school advocates. In the last salvo of the day, the Ed Coalition, representing organizations for teachers, school boards and parents, issued a statement urging lawmakers “to take urgent action to ensure that federal funding passed by Congress is distributed to schools immediately and not used to fix the state’s budget crisis.”
Negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders will determine how much schools will get. Meanwhile, until federal dollars actually arrive, few teachers are likely to be rehired. School has started in many districts, and, uncertain how much they’ll have to spend, many superintendents and school board have been reluctant to call back teachers yet.
It could be a few weeks before districts have the money in hand. The feds have to sign off on the state’s application, and the Legislature must then approve it. The Department of Finance has two options for distributing the money: by each district’s standard appropriation, a formula based on average daily attendance, or by a formula weighted toward Title I money for low-income students. The state hasn’t said which it will choose.