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Reserve $90M for schools, board chairman tells Lingle


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POSTED: Friday, April 24, 2009

School Board Chairman Garrett Toguchi is appealing to Gov. Linda Lingle to reconsider her plan to use $90 million in new federal education money to plug the state deficit now, in light of looming cuts in the school budget for the next two years.

“;The decision you make is critical, as the course you elect will either severely hamper or immensely strengthen our ability to support public school students over the next two school years,”; Toguchi wrote in a letter to the governor Wednesday.

In crafting their budget for the next two fiscal years, state legislators are counting on using that “;stabilization”; money for education, as specified in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But it will not be there if the governor spends it between now and July 1 to make up for the shortfall in the current overall state deficit.

“;At this point in time, both the House and the Senate, as well as the Department of Education and the Board of Education, are relying upon using that federal money over the 2010-2011 school years,”; House Finance Chairman Marcus Oshiro said yesterday. “;So we are very concerned with the governor considering using it for this current fiscal year.”;

The governor's spokesman did not return a call for comment on the issue by press time. But in the past, the administration has stressed that its plan for the money meets the mandates of the law.

Toguchi said the Education Department needs to ramp up spending to meet federal requirements, but instead faces cuts of up to $167 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The governor had proposed slicing $80 million from the education budget over those years. The House and Senate budget drafts cut more deeply but rely on the federal stabilization funds to help make up for the shortfalls.

Before Lingle announced her plan, the Department of Education was expecting to receive $113 million in stabilization money. In addition to making up for expected shortfalls in state revenue, Toguchi said its plans for the money include:

» $10 million to complete a data system to track student performance until college, allowing teachers and principals to hone their efforts to raise achievement levels.

» $17 million to create tests for non-native English speakers, special-needs students and Hawaiian-immersion students.

» $10 million to help students at 100 public schools that are not eligible for federal money that targets high-poverty campuses.