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 Article of Interest - Funding for Education

School chief battles Engler
State superintendent questions governor's plan for grant funds
by Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki, Detroit Free Press, October 24, 2002
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State Superintendent of Education Tom Watkins is taking on Gov. John Engler over the governor's refusal to fill 45 federally funded positions in the state Department of Education.

Watkins wants to use the money -- about $2.5 million -- to hire people to help the state administer federal grants and oversee the new federal No Child Left Behind laws, said T.J. Bucholz, Watkins' spokesman. The No Child Left Behind legislation calls for sanctioning schools if they fail to meet testing and other standards.

The state could lose the federal money if it doesn't use it, Bucholz said Wednesday.

"The Michigan Department of Education has worked hard to bring the bacon home from Washington, D.C.," Watkins said. He accused the Engler administration of "playing games with Michigan's children" and said, "Those federal dollars are specifically earmarked for education reform."

A spokeswoman for Engler said the money doesn't have to be used for jobs, and the governor is considering putting the revenue into classrooms instead.

"Do we use this federal funding to put more money in the classroom, or do we use the federal funding to put more jobs into the Department of Education?" asked Susan Shafer. One option is to send more money to low-performing schools or school districts, she said.

Shafer added that because the state is facing a budget deficit, the governor is carefully weighing which public positions should be filled.

Bucholz said not all of the federal funding can be used in classrooms.

"We always want to funnel as much money into the classroom as possible," he said. But without more administrative help, he said, the education department can't provide oversight of new classroom programs.

"If we don't have the bodies to move these programs forward, we may be forced to leave some of the money on the table," Bucholz said.

The education department is shorthanded after years of downsizing by the Engler administration, Bucholz said. The department has gone from 2,000 employees in 1990 to 283 today.

Another 66 employees have opted for an Engler-sponsored early retirement program. The department has been authorized to fill 26 of those jobs, primarily for care providers at the Michigan Schools for the Deaf and Blind, which has campuses in Flint and Lansing.

Contact PEGGY WALSH-SARNECKI at 586-469-4681 or

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