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 Article of Interest - Michigan

Watkins says Engler withholding education funds
by Dee-Ann Durbin, The Associated Press, 10/23/02
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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 said.

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 government.

"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 legislation.

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