ST. LOUIS — Supporters say an emergency education spending bill signed into law by President Barack Obama this week will soon send $10 billion to states to help spare thousands of teacher jobs.
But many educators aren't sure when the money will arrive, or even if their schools will get any. A top Missouri budget official told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it is uncertain whether the state will distribute all of the new federal funds — $190 million for Missouri — this year.
And leaders at many districts in the St. Louis area and elsewhere say they are assuming they will get little or none of the money.
Missouri's share of the funding won't likely bring 35 teachers back to work at Lindbergh, the only St. Louis County district forced to lay off a significant number due to the recession. That's because rules for distributing the federal money won't direct funds to all districts equally.
"It's not fun to be on the wrong end of irony," said Pat Lanane, Lindbergh's chief financial officer. "I have no expectation that we'll do any better this time."
States have the option of handing out the money through their existing state school funding formula or based on a school district's level of poverty assistance. Both options favor poorer districts with low local property tax support.
Missouri districts that receive more state aid through the funding formula stand to gain the most. Officials at those districts say the extra money could prevent future teacher layoffs, but they caution it is not a remedy for all financial shortfalls.
"(It) begins to help plug a little bit of the hole, but that is not the state's only concern," said Kevin Supple, chief financial officer at the Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County. "Still, this is very welcome news."
The U.S. Department of Education has estimated the money would support about 160,000 education jobs nationwide, including 3,300 teacher and school staff jobs in Missouri. The Missouri National Education Association lauded the legislation.
But the program has critics.
MU economist Michael Podgursky said schools nationwide have added to payrolls in rates that have far exceeded enrollment growth.
"The idea that they might slim down a bit is not a bad one," he said. "The more bodies you put on the payroll, the more expensive it becomes. Give them money to spend to keep the schools running, but don't encourage them to add more to the payroll when really they might not need it."
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he wants to make the money available to school districts as quickly as possible.
The same federal legislation included money for Missouri for Medicaid, and state lawmakers had already agreed to set aside any assistance to make up for shortfalls in fiscal year 2012.
But no decision was made about emergency education funding. State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said she was waiting for more guidance from federal officials to determine if all the $190 million in school aid must be spent this year.