When the state announced school districts stood to get $208 million in federal money from the Education Jobs law, Gov. Chris Gregoire said:
These funds will help our school districts immediately, supporting educational programs during the 2010-2011 school year. The money can only be used to pay for teacher jobs and other education employees such as paraeducators, school counselors, and school librarians. …
I thank Sen. Patty Murray and the rest of the Washington delegation for their efforts to secure the Education Jobs funding. This money will provide much needed financial assistance to school districts and help our students receive the quality instruction they deserve.
But that was three months and hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue losses ago, and now the money is about to be used as part of a $588 million patch to the 2010 state budget, which has bipartisan support and is cruising through the Legislature.
A teacher’s union lobbyist warned lawmakers today it’s not legal to divert the money.
“It actually is a violation of the Congressional act,” testified Randall Parr of the Washington Education Association, “and while other states have done so, it should be noted that you are doing so.”
Technically, the Education Jobs money still is going to school districts. The state is just cutting the districts by an equal amount, so they don’t get any benefit from it.
Lawmakers and Gregoire think they have the right to divert the money in that way.
The law (below) doesn’t seem to outright prohibit what’s called “supplanting” in the budgeting world. Its direction to states is short, and mainly says they can’t supplant the funds in a way that would help bulk up their rainy-day funds or pay off their debts.
“We’re pretty certain that this is allowable use,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said.
The law also prohibits states that take the money from falling below certain levels of overall spending on education.
Parr acknowledged after the budget hearing the legislative staffers who have decided the use is legal may be right “on a very technical level.” Still, he said: “The spirit of the law seems to have been violated.”