Tapping Into the Texas Share of the Federal Education Jobs Fund

First things first:  Thanks are due to all of you who joined in our Texas AFT campaign of  e-mail letters and phone calls urging Gov. Rick Perry to apply for $830 million in federal aid reserved for Texas school districts in the Education Jobs Fund enacted by Congress August 10.

Your pressure helped induce the governor to make required assurances of sustained state effort and to ask for the money, however grudgingly, on September 3. Based on statements of U.S. Department of Education officials, Texas AFT expects the Department to make every effort to get the money to Texas school districts, despite the governor’s professed doubts about our state’s eligibility. The question now seems to be more a matter of exactly when, not whether, the funding will arrive.

District shares of the money will be based on Title I formulas tied to the population of economically disadvantaged students. The funding can cover eligible costs incurred from August 10, the day the bill was signed into law, through September 30, 2012. Texas AFT will work along with its local affiliates to make sure the funds go, as required, only for compensation and benefits and other expenses, such as support services, necessary to retain existing employees, to recall or rehire former employees, and to hire new employees, in order to provide early childhood, elementary, or secondary educational and related services.

Federal guidance documents state that the phrase “compensation and benefits and other expenses, such as support services” includes, among other things, salaries, performance bonuses, health insurance, retirement benefits, incentives for early retirement, pension fund contributions, tuition reimbursements, student loan repayment assistance, transportation subsidies, and reimbursement for child-care expenses. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also has said that “professional development” would be an allowable expenditure category.

Duncan and his staff also have made clear that school districts as a general rule may not spend the money on administrative expenses. Spending on district-level administration is prohibited–for example, expenditures for operation of the superintendent’s office or for the salaries or benefits of district-level administrative employees. Also prohibited is any expenditure for district-level support services such as fiscal services, program planning and research, and human resource services. Districts can use the money to pay salaries of teachers and other employees who provide educational and related services at the campus level. An illustrative list of such categories of employees, provided in the initial federal guidance document, includes: teachers, principals, assistant principals, academic coaches, in-service teacher trainers, classroom aides, counselors, librarians, secretaries, social workers, psychologists, interpreters, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, information technology personnel, nurses, athletic coaches, security officers, custodians, maintenance workers, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. However, a school district may not use the money to pay for contracted-out campus services (for example, janitors employed by an outside firm).