School District Gains Funds for Disabled, Low-Income Programs

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The Berkeley Unified School District is expecting about $2.4 million in stimulus funds for federal programs that would benefit students with special needs or with socioeconomic disadvantages.

The funds come from the more than $1 billion the U.S. Department of Education is giving California, which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell announced Wednesday.

The money, which school districts will receive within a month, is part of the first of two installments meant to go toward federal education programs for students with disabilities and schools with high percentages of low-income students. The remaining funds will be distributed in October.

The district can expect $1,734,000 from the $634 million the state is receiving toward the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Education and Labor. The act is a federal program that regulates special education for disabled students.

The money could offset the increasing cost of educating students with disabilities, said the district's Superintendent Bill Huyett.

"(The act) is way underfunded," he said.

The federal government has historically failed to fund the 40 percent it has committed to provide for with the act, Huyett said. The federal government currently provides only 25 to 27 percent, forcing the state and local governments to cover the rest.

Another part of the first installment will give the state about $564 million to Title I, Part A, a federal program for schools with high percentages of low-income students.

The district, which includes 17 schools classified as Title I, is slated to receive $697,596 according to the department.

But Huyett said the amount is not adequate to support the program.

"With the federal government Title I funding, there needs to be more funding towards (assisting) students, whether it is from state or federal government," he said.

Districts are being cautioned against using their funds toward budget cuts, as they are one-time only and will not likely offset the $4 billion shortfall for K-12 education, said Heather Carlson, education fiscal services consultant for the Department of Education.

Carlson said school districts should instead use the $4.8 billion stabilization funds included in the stimulus to offset budget cuts.

In total, the state is expecting $8 billion in stimulus funds for public education over the next two years, of which the district can expect $4 million.

Karen Hemphill, vice president of the district's school board, said she is primarily concerned there may be another round of state cuts.

"It is hard to know what the federal stimulus package means to us because the state budget is still in flux," she said. "The federal level might be giving more, but the state might be taking more."


Contact Melani Sutedja and Alexandra Wilcox at [email protected]

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