Original URL: http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/news/5310.php

States returning millions in school funds
By Nancy Zuckerbrod

WASHINGTON - While state officials nationwide say they need more money to educate children, newly released figures show states are returning millions to the federal Treasury rather than spending it in the hinterlands.

Last year, states returned $124 million to Washington that was to have gone toward large education programs such as special education and aid to poor children, according to Education Department data obtained by The Associated Press.

The states had more than three years to tap into the money before it reverted to the federal government on Sept. 30, 2003, said C. Todd Jones, a budget official in the Education Department.

The money was less than 1 percent of the $18 billion in federal funding that had been allocated to states on formulas in force during that period, Jones said Friday.

It could have been put to good use in the states, he said, and they have much flexibility in the money's use. States, he said, "should seriously investigate why they are turning such large sums back to the federal Treasury."

States and territories that returned the most were Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, the department said. Arizona returned more than $3 million.

"We try to spend every penny that the federal government sends us," said Debbie Ratcliff, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, which sent back $11 million.

Ratcliff said schools sometimes let federal money lapse or fail to satisfy requirements for it, but she said the state agency doesn't always find out in time to send the money to alternative schools.

Tennessee, which returned $3.9 million to the federal government last year, is working to fix the problem by having budget officers work more closely with program experts, said Kim Karesh, a spokeswoman for the state education department.

Besides the $124 million in formula funding returned, states sent back $30 million last year that was supposed to have gone toward projects specific to a state.

The money returned to the U.S. Treasury is different from roughly $6 billion in federal funding the Bush administration says states are sitting on that has not yet expired. The administration this week countered arguments that it was inadequately funding education by saying states are taking too long to spend billions of federal dollars meant for schools.


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