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Millions in stimulus bill for Clayton schools

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) announced this week that Clayton County Public Schools may receive $43.3 million, if the federal economic stimulus bill is approved by the U.S. Senate.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House approved the $819 billion package, intended to help pull the nation from recession.

Clayton County schools experienced a $16.3 million loss in full-time equivalency funding this year when more than 3,000 students fled the district in the wake of the school system's accreditation loss. The school system also experienced $6 million in spending cutbacks from the state's budget.

Scott said the economic stimulus bill will provide $14.4 million in Title 1-A funds to help educate disadvantaged students, $16.5 million for school construction grants, and $12.4 million for programs that benefit students with disabilities and special needs. He said that money could help the school system recover from its loses.

"There is no greater investment you can make ... [than] in our schools and in our students," said Scott. "A girl wrote me a letter from Forest Park High School and told me that her school was crumbling. I read it on the floor of the House. We have been derelict in getting funding for our schools.

"We were able to get $43.3 million for Clayton County schools" in the bill, he said. "The school board should be jumping up and down for what we've done."

Charles White, a spokesman for the school system, however, was not yet ready to celebrate. He said because a large portion of the money is tied to Title 1-A funding, there may be certain criteria the board has to meet before it can claim those funds.

White said until the bill passes the U.S. Senate, any discussion about how to spend those funds is not useful.

"It's really premature to talk about this money," said White. "First of all, it has to pass. Then we have to learn what the criteria are. Because it is Title I, there may be certain earmarks. We're aware that it is out there, but right now, we are in a wait-and-see mode."

Scott said the bill also includes approximately $1.1 billion for road and bridge improvements in Georgia and $122 million in transit funding for the state. He said Clayton County will have to lobby the Georgia Department of Transportation to receive those funds, and that the county can make a better argument if it gets behind commuter rail.

"I was able to get $43 million for MARTA, but if we had the commuter rail here, we could have gotten another $17 million to do it," he said. He said for two years, the state and federal governments have set aside a total of $106 million for the Atlanta-to-Griffin commuter rail line and "the country has been waiting for Georgia to move forward on it.

"We have 120 days to submit these projects [to GDOT]," Scott said. "If the county wants more money for transportation, they need to get the commuter rail here."

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the Board of Commissioners will stay "fully abreast of the stimulus package.

"Every possibility, given the stimulus package that was passed yesterday, we will be asking for," Bell said Thursday. "That includes commuter rail, roads and bridges, and any initiatives to create jobs."