The state aid bill President Barack Obama signed last week is expected to provide $1.2 billion to help California's cash-strapped schools, but uncertainty over the state budget could delay plans to rehire laid-off teachers or restore school days.
The emergency legislation provides $10 billion to states to save or create estimated 160,000 education jobs, including up to 16,500 in California.
The Obama administration plans to begin distributing the education money to states later this month and wants school districts to use the money to retain and rehire teachers for the 2010-2011 academic year, which has already begun in some districts.
But California lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still haven't reached agreement on a state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, and there is no deal in sight, creating financial uncertainty among school districts.
"Districts are going to be reluctant to make any solid decisions about this money until they have solid information about what the state budget will contain," said Rick Pratt, assistant executive director of the California School Boards Association.
The jobs bill is designed to prevent widespread layoffs of teachers and other public employees, but critics call it an election-year giveaway to public employee unions that are longtime Democratic supporters.
California submitted its application for its share of the $10 billion education fund on Friday, and is expected to receive the money within the next two weeks.
School districts have until September 2012 to spend the federal money, but the Obama administration is encouraging them to use the funds during the current school year, said Sandra Abrevaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education.
The money can be used to hire, rehire or retain teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses, administrators and other school employees, as well as restore pay cuts and furlough days.
California education officials say the federal money will help blunt the deep budget cuts to education that have led to teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, shortened school years, and cuts to summer school and other academic programs.
"It's not a panacea, but during these extraordinarily impossibly budget times, it will help," said Jack O'Connell, California's superintendent of public instruction. "This will provide a softer landing to districts facing a bleak budget picture."
About 14,000 of the 26,000 teachers who received pink slips in March still haven't been rehired, according to the California Teachers Association. It's unclear how many of those laid off teachers will get their jobs back.
San Francisco Unified School District hopes to rehire pink-slipped employees and restore the four instructional days it cut from the school year, but officials want to know how much state funding it will receive before taking action, said spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.
"It's challenging for school districts when we don't have a state budget because that's where we get most of our funding," Blythe said. "If the state budget looks worse than last year, being able to spread that money out next year would help prevent future cuts."
Oakland Unified School District leaders, which is preparing to close seven preschool centers later this month, plant to make early childhood education a high priority when it decides how to spend the federal money, said spokesman Troy Flint.
But some school officials are concerned the new federal money will prompt the state to reduce education spending, even though the federal legislation contains provisions to discourage that.
"They could say, 'You're going to get all this money from the feds, so we're going to shift this money to use for other needs,'" said Robert Alaniz, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "It's a little hard to say how we're going to use that until the state finalizes its budget."
Peder Larsen, who was one of more than 300 Long Beach Unified School District teachers laid off this year, said he and another math teacher were rehired by their schools last week. District officials said those hirings were not prompted by the jobs bills.
"I feel quite relieved," Larsen. "Hopefully we're just the first of many to have their layoffs rescinded."
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