The federal Department of Education is starting to put some details on the education jobs fund approved by Congress earlier this month.
To say there has been confusion about how the money can be spent is the understatement of the summer. The legislation came as a surprise to governors who thought the idea was dead. Details were sketchy and many wondered if the money would come with too many strings to be worthwhile.
Here is something called the “initial guidance for states” from the department. It contains instruction about how to apply for the money and how it can be spent.
“An LEA (local education agency) must use its funds 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,” says the guidance.
Since the $10 billion fund ($206 million for Washington state) was designed to prevent or reverse layoffs, what happens if a district hasn’t laid off teachers for this school year?
C-8. If a State has not reduced its levels of State support for elementary and secondary education, are LEAs in the State still eligible to receive Ed Jobs funds?
Yes. Any State that meets the Ed Jobs MOE (maintenance of effort) requirements, including those that have not made cuts to education, is eligible to receive program funds. If a State’s LEAs do not need funds to recall or rehire former employees, they may use the funds for activities such as paying the salaries and benefits for teachers who provide instructional services in after-school and extended learning programs.
That was relatively clear before, that the money could be used to paying existing teachers or hiring new teachers. What has been less clear is the definition of “support services.”
D-3. Which employees may an LEA support with Ed Jobs funds?
An LEA may use the funds to pay the salaries of teachers and other employees who provide school-level educational and related services. In addition to teachers, employees supported with program funds may include, among others, 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.
So the definition is pretty broad, allowing the money to be used for any employee who works in a school building, as long as they are actual employees of the district. No contract workers can be paid with Edujobs money.
Most intriguing might be this:
D-6. May an LEA use Ed Jobs funds to change previously established employee salary schedules or to reduce the number of furlough days?
Yes. An LEA may use Ed Jobs funds, for example, to restore reductions in salaries and benefits and to implement salary increases for the 2010-2011 school year. In addition, an LEA may use the funds for any additional salary and benefits costs associated with the elimination of furlough days that had been scheduled for the 2010-2011 school year.
One reason for this is to avoid punishing districts that used pay freezes or cuts to make budgets rather than resort to layoffs. If the money could not be used to restore reductions, then teachers who accepted pay cuts or furlough days would be treated less generously than those who saw layoffs.
In Washington it could be used to restore staff training days that the state cut. Some districts used local levy money to pay for those learning improvement days and the federal money could be used to pay for them instead.
But the language says the money could be used for pay hikes for teachers. It isn’t clear whether it must be spent on already agreed to pay increases or could be used for new increases that might be triggered by the Edujobs money. Since the question references “previously established salary schedules,” and the department says the money can be used to change those schedules, it suggests additional pay hikes could be implemented using the money.
At the very least, it doesn’t prohibit the use of the new money for new pay increases.
Finally, there is this quirk of the rules, that the money designed to retain teacher jobs could be used to encourage teachers to leave the profession.
D-2. What categories of expenses may an LEA support with Ed Jobs funds?
For purposes of this program, 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 reimbursement, student loan repayment assistance, transportation subsidies, and reimbursement for childcare expenses.