- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The first round of school dollars from the economic stimulus law is going to states this week.

To mark the occasion, Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Wednesday is visiting first- and fifth-grade classes at Doswell Brooks Elementary School in Capitol Heights in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

Public schools will get an unprecedented amount of money _ double the education budget under President George W. Bush _ from the stimulus law over the next two years.

On Wednesday, the administration is making available half of the dollars for federal programs that fund kindergarten through 12th grade and special education. In addition, Duncan will provide applications for states to get money from a special fund to stabilize state and local budgets.

President Barack Obama says the stimulus will save teachers’ jobs, although there is no estimate of how many jobs will be rescued. Nationwide, about 294,000 teachers _ 9 percent _ may face layoffs because of state budget cuts, according to a University of Washington study.

However, loopholes created by Congress could let states and school districts spend the money on other things, such as playground equipment or new construction.

Duncan said last week he will “come down like a ton of bricks” and withhold the second round of funds from anyone who defies Obama’s wishes.

At the same time, the administration wants to do more than save teachers’ jobs. Obama wants to transform the federal government’s role in education. His administration views the stimulus bill as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put lasting reforms in place.

In their applications, states must show improvement in teacher quality, data systems, academic standards and tests and supporting struggling schools.

States and districts will also have a chance to compete for money from a $5 billion fund solely for these kinds of innovations. Previous education secretaries had a fraction of that, about $16 million a year, to distribute for their own priorities.

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