State, DOE, feds must forge stimulus accord
The conversation over the proper use of the federal stimulus money for education — it's fair to call it an outright argument, in some cases — is becoming more heated in states across the nation.
Hawai'i is certainly one of those, and there's a critical need for settlement — soon.
Differing interpretations of the rules governing the "stabilization" funding for education, part of the federal stimulus package, has put Gov. Linda Lingle at odds with public school officials. Briefly put, the governor believes she has more discretion over the use of the $192-million cache than do the state superintendent and Board of Education, and Lingle plans to use the lion's share of the money to help close a widening gap between state revenues and expenses.
It's indisputably confusing. One part of the stabilization section of the law states that, "in general," 81.8 percent of the funds shall be spent for the support of education, leaving the remainder for other purposes.
Another part lists, among the assurances the governor must make, a rule that her plan "maintain state support for elementary and secondary education at least at the level of such support in fiscal year 2006."
Nobody seems clear about the relative weight of those conditions.
The same head-scratching is going on in other states, which all face differing challenges and have divergent needs.
The importance of flexibility in the law is obvious, but guidance is needed to ensure that states and federal officials are on the same page. It would be counterproductive for Hawai'i to have its funding application rejected because the requirements aren't met.
Fortunately U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday that his office will issue more guidelines next week. That advisory couldn't come soon enough.
And here at home, the governor and state education officials simply have to recognize the need for negotiations to come to some accommodation.
Schools need resources to meet their commitment to children. The state needs help closing the broader budgetary gap. Both objectives are correct. Now it's time to find the middle ground that does a reasonable degree of justice to both.