States that cut schools money to fix deficits could lose stimulus funds

WASHINGTON — Florida is hoping the giant federal economic stimulus package, under consideration in the Senate this week, will provide a fix for its strapped school districts.

Under the House version of the $819 billion spending bill, Florida could be shortchanged by a provision that requires states to maintain school spending to ''at least at the level of fiscal year 2006'' to qualify for as much as $3.58 billion in education spending. Because the cash-strapped state has sliced education funding, state officials estimate the state would be about $600 million short this year — and ineligible for the federal dollars.

Local school districts said they're working with Gov. Charlie Crist's office and members of Congress for a fix.

''Short of the state rapidly arriving at a means of stabilizing its budget, we're banking on this money,'' said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who said he talked to new Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the needs of urban schools and plans to come to the Capitol to lobby for the bill. "This budget stabilization is what we need to continue to protect education programs.''

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, had championed an amendment that would allow the federal Education Department to grant a waiver to states like Florida that have been hit by natural disasters ''or a precipitous decline in the financial resources of the state'' — but the amendment died.

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez will push his proposal to address the issue this week. A spokesman for the Republican said he planned to reach out to other states that may be in similar circumstances.

No Republicans in the House voted for the bill when it cleared the chamber last week, and Martinez has not yet decided whether he supports it, spokesman Ken Lundberg said.

''But if this is the train that's moving, he wants to make sure Florida gets a fair share,'' he said.

The House bill also includes $370 million for Miami-Dade schools over the next two years for instruction, new technology and school construction and repair. Broward schools could get nearly $193 million for the same expenses.

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure this week and work out the differences with the House bill before both chambers would vote on a compromise version. President Barack Obama has said he hopes to have the bill on his desk by mid-February.