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July 23, 2014

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Education stimulus funds for Nevada released

Money to help bandage state’s education woes

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AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) addresses the Legislature in Carson City on April 15 about federal stimulus dollars. Titus urged state lawmakers to take all the federal stimulus funds available to ensure essential services aren’t wiped out in Nevada.

A federal stimulus check is in the mail, headed for Nevada's education coffers.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday that $265.7 million of stimulus money has been released to Nevada. The money has not landed in state accounts yet, said Mendy Elliott, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Jim Gibbons, but it was welcome news given the state's budget woes.

"This is great news," Elliott said.

The amount represents 66 percent of the total $396 million in stabilization money Nevada is eligible for, Elliott said. The Education Department statement said the state can apply for another $130 million in the fall.

The state must spend $324 million on education and has flexibility on how to spend $72 million, assuming it receives the entire stimulus package this year.

Gibbons' office has known about the successful application for federal money for about week, Elliott said, but was waiting for the money to land in state accounts before announcing it.

A good portion of the money — $139 million — will go immediately to elementary and secondary education funding for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, Elliott said. The rest will be set aside for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The application for the $324 million in education-specific money shows the governor's office plans to provide another $69.9 million to elementary and secondary education and $114.9 million to higher education in 2009-10, Elliott said. However, she said, that may have to be adjusted once the Legislature completes its budget work.

Members of the governor's staff were prepared last week for a lengthy defense of the state's application, Elliott said, but were pleasantly surprised during a phone call with federal officials to hear the application had been approved.

"The phone call took five minutes," Elliott said. "We expected it to be an hours-long phone call with questions."

The state already has received $74 million in stimulus money for Title 1 schools, which are the those with the greatest economic needs and those that offer special education and vocational training. That number is 50 percent of what the state may receive this year for those needs, the statement said.

"...It is critical that during this tough economic time we continue to invest in our nation's future by ensuring that students receive a quality education," U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said in a statement. "This money, along with the more than $74 million in education money that has already been sent to the state through the recovery plan, can help save jobs for our teachers, administrators, and support staff and lead to critical reforms that will improve our schools and our children's performance so they can compete in the global economy."

Deanna Wright, a member of the Clark County School Board, said she welcomed the news but would like to see what kind of strings are attached to the spending and how it will be divided.

"It's not a silver bullet," she said. "It's not ongoing money. It's a one-time shot in the arm, to stabilize us for a couple of years while the nation stabilizes from the economic crisis."

Mary Jo Parise-Malloy, of the Nevadans for Quality Education, which has been lobbying for more school funding, said she wasn't sure Nevada would be able to show enough progress to receive the entire amount of stimulus money.

"The education will help us keep the doors open, but I don't think it will help us add any enhancements," she said. "States have to show what they did with that first round of money in order to get the second batch of money. I don't know if Nevada will be able to show that it's done anything great with the money."

On Monday, the Nevada Legislature failed to reach a consensus on how much to cut higher education funding. It will meet again Tuesday to attempt to reach an agreement. Gov. Jim Gibbons' budget calls for a 36 percent cut to spending on higher education from 2007 levels.

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