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Stimulus funding $$ to shore up SD schools

Posted: Wednesday, Jun 24th, 2009

Local and area school districts having trouble funding special education and low-income student programs can now breathe a sigh of relief.

The Brookings School District and Sioux Valley Schools recently received the first round of education stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, funding from the state intended to help schools save education-related jobs and maintain programs for low-income students and students with disabilities.

South Dakota received $17.3 million in Title I funds and $17.6 million in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding. This is the first half of two installments of direct funding that school districts will receive for Title I and IDEA programs; the second installment of funds will be released to districts in the fall of this year.

From those amounts, Brookings gets $550,000 in IDEA funding and $218,251 in Title I money. Sioux Valley will receive $120,000 in IDEA funding and $57,989 for Title I. The federal grants have to be spent over a two-year period. Additional staff

According to Brookings School District Business Manager Brian Lueders and Special Education Director Michelle Powers, most of the money from both sources will be used to fund additional staff positions in the special education department.

IDEA funding will pay for a new school psychologist, a speech therapist and two new special education staff members, Lueders said. The Title I money will be used to keep an existing Title I teacher and to employ a new half-time teacher. According to Powers, all positions will be added to Brookings School District staff at the start of the 2009 school term.

The state specified guidelines for schools to follow in spending the funds, but Powers said there is still a variety of ways for schools to allocate the money.

In addition, Powers said the flexibility of the way the funding can be used allowed for her to better stretch existing special education dollars.

"This really provides us an opportunity to enhance our program," said Powers. "It gives us a chance to make sure our caseloads are at more even numbers which is the goal we were shooting for, and, in the end, the positive recipients are going to be the students and their families. Stretch dollars available

"It's something that we are always looking towards, and we already had an intent to add positions even before we knew about the additional funding. Because of flexibility of the money, I am able to make all of our dollars go further, add more breathing room. We wanted to be as smart as possible with the dollars and make them go as far as possible."

According to Powers, the funding is in place and available for drawdown, and the district is seeking candidates to fill the new positions.

Sioux Valley Superintendent Dean Johnson said his district's IDEA money will be used to make up some of the shortfalls between the district's local and state funding for that program. He said the stimulus dollars will help pay for services for specialty students , such as therapy, and services for students whose needs are greater than the schools can serve and are therefore placed out of district. Wait and see

Johnson said that with the Title I funds, Sioux Valley officials are waiting to see what the usual allocation will bring in for the program . He anticipates the amount going down, so the new stimulus funds will help replace some of those the program is losing. Johnson said what's left will be used for professional development of existing staff. "This may seem like a great deal of money, but the majority goes to cover costs in places where we weren't funded before," Johnson said. "So it will help. But we will see what happens after the two years are over and this money is gone."

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was an extraordinary solution to the serious economic crisis facing our nation," Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (DS .D.) said of the funding.

"These funds will not only help stimulate the economy in the short term but will provide critical assistance in ensuring that children across South Dakota have access to a high-quality education that prepares them for the future.

"I'm pleased that this funding has been allocated so quickly, and I have no doubt that it will be put to good use in assisting school districts across the state ."

IDEA is the federal program that provides funding for special education and related services to students with disabilities. The Title I program provides funds to low-income school districts that are in even greater need during the economic downturn. The funds appropriated through the Recovery Plan are distributed through the previously defined IDEA and Title I formulas.

In addition to the Title I and IDEA investments , the economic recovery plan also created a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to help stabilize state and local budgets and restore harmful cuts to education.

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