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School budgets

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School districts across the country will have to confront fiscal problems and budget gaps in the coming school year made worse by their reliance on federal stimulus money that will no longer be available.

The $787 billion stimulus package includes $100 billion in education aid. Most states have already spent the money or will run out of funds by the end of this school year, according to surveys.

A survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that 38 percent of the funds meant to stabilize spending were spent in the 2008-09 school year with 48 percent in the current year and the rest in the next academic year.

Districts were cautioned on the use of the funds to avoid spending them on recurring expenditures, although the admonitions appeared contrary to the intent of the stimulus bill and even Obama administration boasting about its success.

Some districts heeded the advice and funded one-time expenditures or long-term investments such as purchasing handicapped-accessible vehicles or renovating bathrooms.

Columbia University Professor Michael A. Rebell, one of three at the Teachers College who conducted one of the surveys, called that "a godsend" and "an investment that will last for years."

The White House, though, cites the aid in helping to save or create 250,000 education jobs. The problem for states and schools now is how to maintain those jobs when they run out of stimulus aid.

The stimulus funds were intended to be one-time funds above what the federal governments would usually provide. School districts, like the states, may have been hoping for a return of better economic times bringing with it more aid or tax revenue to make up for stimulus funds. That has not happened. States are struggling to overcome deficits.

Without increases in state aid, which is a hot political topic in New York and other states, districts will have to choose between raising property taxes or cutting other services or programs.

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