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Stimulus: Districts Being Told To Plump Up Job Numbers?

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State School News Service wonders whether districts in Illinois are now being told to lie about the impact of the stimulus funding on saving jobs. After reporting that few jobs were saved or created by ARRA, districts in Illinois are now being told to "clarify" their numbers.  See below.



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Thursday, September 17, 2009 
To read the .pdf version, click here
 
Districts told to lie for ARRA funds?
By Jim Broadway, Publisher, State School News Service
 
Apparently, Illinois school superintendents should have known that the state would break its own law, the appropriations statutes enacted in 2008, if the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act had not been enacted by Congress this year.

That would be the only basis, some superintendents now believe, that they should claim education jobs were "created or retained" in their districts because of the federal ARRA funds the state used to deliver five FY 2009 General State Aid payments to them.

But they thought the state would follow the law in this regard, so those superintendents claimed ARRA "created or retained" few or no jobs for them, that if not for ARRA, the state would have found another way to make good on its statutory obligation.

Now on Wednesday, districts were directed by the Illinois State Board of Education to "clarify" reports on the effects of receiving ARRA funding. "Each LEA should review and analyze" its ARRA-supported GSA receipts and "determine the job impact if these monies had not been received," they were told.

The agency conceded some districts may have had balances or borrowing authority to avert layoffs if they had not received the GSA payments. But others would have faced "serious decisions on staff cuts," the memo said as it instructed districts on how to revise their expenditure reports to reflect "this new guidance." This caused superintendents to wonder: "Are we being told to lie?"

Likely to be treated as 'semantic' issue

The situation reveals something of a sham. While a premise of using ARRA money has been that it will "create or retain" jobs in the school districts, in fact it was used by the state to make payments already committed to the districts under state law.

In a technical sense, therefore - unless it could be believed that the General Assembly would rescind the FY 2009 appropriations because a bad economy made it impossible to pay for them - federal ARRA funds solved a problem for the state, not the school districts. Has an appropriation ever been revoked?

But to qualify for the ARRA funds, the state needed to assure the federal government that jobs indeed had been created or retained. For that to happen, the school districts needed to document that claim in reports they had to file under federal law.

What should the districts do now?

Without directly saying so in Wednesday's directive, the ISBE implied that it had given flawed instruction to the districts initially. "In recent discussions" with USDE, the memo said, "clarification was provided as to how jobs retained should be reported." (Note the use of passive voice in sticky situations like this.)

It might have averted the problem if the ISBE had originally said: "ARRA funds are tied to jobs, and we guarantee the budget will be cut by statute and the last five GSA payments will disappear if we don't get that federal money. So claim jobs retained in your districts on that basis." They didn't say that, but the agency is now expecting the districts to act as if they did. Fudging on honesty appears unavoidable.

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Good post :) Thanks for sharing :) Please keep it up.
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