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Fayette schools expect $8.5 million in federal stimulus money

The Fayette County public schools will be getting more than $8.5 million over the next several weeks in the district's initial share of funding from the federal economic stimulus act.

The district expects to get the money through the federal Title 1 program, which serves economically disadvantaged youngsters, and the IDEA program for children with disabilities.

Statewide, the initial stimulus allocation to school districts through Title 1 and IDEA should total about $155.6 million, according to the latest estimates by the Kentucky Department of Education.

And that's only the first half. Schools will be getting roughly equal amounts in their second share of stimulus money, which is due this fall, state education officials say.

State education department spokeswoman Lisa Gross said some school districts already are getting money.

It sounds like a windfall. And it is — sort of. There are strings attached, officials say.

"It's going to help school districts, but they can't just use the money for anything," Gross said. "It's not free money. There are whole books of guidance from Washington on what schools can use it for. People need to understand that just because a district gets an influx of this money doesn't mean it's rich."

Fayette schools Superintendent Stu Silberman has said his district will use its stimulus share to boost student achievement and close achievement gaps.

"Philosophically, this is one-time money, not long-term recurring dollars, so when we invest the funds we have to do it with that in mind," Silberman said Thursday.

He said possible uses include training and professional development; acquisition of new hardware and software for technology; or creation of pilot programs that the school system could continue after the stimulus program ends.

The aim would be to generate benefits long after the stimulus, he said.

The Fayette County schools should get about $4.1 million from Title 1 in its initial share, said Paula Whitmer, the district's Title 1 coordinator.

Another $4.4 million is expected in the first share from IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, said Kathy Dykes, the schools' special education director.

When the school district's second stimulus allocation arrives this fall, the total amount of the package is expected to reach about $15 million.

Both Dykes and Whitmer noted that the schools' use of the money largely will be dictated by federal regulations.

The state education department has scheduled a training session June 10 to give school officials from around Kentucky more "nuts and bolts" information on how they can spend the money

Silberman said he expects that much of the money under Title 1 might have to be distributed in a "formula driven" manner, with schools that have the highest levels of poverty getting the most dollars.

School officials do not yet know how much federal money they might receive apart from Title 1 and IDEA.

In some cases a school system would have to apply for money and perhaps compete with others to get it.

There is, for example, the Race To The Top program, which would reward schools for coming up with innovative ways to boost student achievement. Schools probably would have to apply for such rewards, Silberman said.

"I do think it's a once in a lifetime opportunity for us, but there are still a lot of questions, and we don't have all the answers yet," he said.

"We want to make sure we have all the guidelines in writing and follow them to the letter when we allocate the dollars," Silberman said. "We don't want to get people's hopes up about something, and then find that we can't do it because of the guidelines."