Watkins says Engler
withholding education funds
Dee-Ann Durbin, The Associated Press,
For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit
State Superintendent Tom Watkins said Wednesday that Gov. John
Engler is preventing the Department of Education from
accessing $140 million in federal funding.
Watkins, a Democrat, said the Republican administration is
holding on to money that could pay for 45 staff members. The
staff is needed to help put new federal education laws in
place, Watkins said.
"The Michigan Department of Education has worked hard to bring
the bacon home from Washington, D.C. Now, we need to make it
sizzle for our children," Watkins said. "The administration is
playing a political game with Michigan's children."
Kelly Chesney, a spokeswoman for the state Department of
Management and Budget, said Watkins' plan for the money is
under review. The state is facing a $500 million deficit this
fiscal year, so expenditures are being reviewed very closely.
"Obviously, funds are very limited. We want to make sure the
money is not spent on Lansing bureaucracy ... and that it goes
into the classroom and gets to the district level," Chesney
Department of Education spokesman T.J. Bucholz said it's
critical that the department hire more staff. Sixty-six people
are retiring by November under an early-retirement program
designed to save money; the department is authorized to
replace only 26 of them.
"Our goal has always been to deliver as many resources to
schools as possible," Bucholz said. "But we have educational
experts here at the Department of Education, and our experts
tell us that we need people to administer quality programs."
Bucholz also pointed out that the funding is from the federal
"These are not state dollars. They don't affect the state
budget one penny," he said. "There's no reason why we can't
fill 45 positions ... other than pure partisan politics."
Chesney pointed out that the department was allowed to fill
every position left open by the early retirement program at
the Michigan School for the Deaf and Blind.
She added that the department is getting 15 new staff members
to help implement the federal No Child Left Behind