The chairwoman of the Legislature’s federal stimulus oversight commission criticized the Lingle administration for not spending $35 million in federal funds to stave off Furlough Fridays in the classroom, since the money was available before the school year began.
Gov. Linda Lingle had the money to be spent at her discretion since July 2009. She budgeted the money for improving science and math-related learning, and supplementing the charter school system.
"It isn’t just that the money is secured and expended, it’s the wiseness of the choices," said Kate Stanley, chairwoman of the Legislative Federal Economic Stimulus Program Oversight Commission, at an oversight hearing yesterday.
"I’m not sure that this $35 million has been used in the most wise way when it could’ve been used to reduce furlough days for over 176,000 schoolchildren."
Lingle’s senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, said at the hearing that before the furlough issue came up, the administration already committed to schools that the money would be used on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, as well as assisting charter schools.
About $9 million was allocated for charter schools, including $3.3 million for hiring qualified teachers, $3.1 million to maintain accreditation for schools and $2.3 million to restoring instructional time.
"Many of them chose not to have furloughs," Smith said. "We didn’t feel it was appropriate to penalize schools who were able to work around their budget limitations by not giving them some funds to be able to meet their payroll needs."
Smith said the governor met with officials from the state Department of Education, the University of Hawaii and the Charter School Administrative Office to discuss which projects should be funded.
"Our feeling is that we don’t want to have everybody think they can have everything," Smith said when asked why Lingle did not issue a request for proposals. "The money is very limited, and we had some very specific criteria in what we wanted to accomplish."
Stanley, who was appointed as the commission’s chairwoman by state House Speaker Calvin Say, also questioned why Lingle did not form a commission to determine how the money was spent.
"It was basically the Governor’s Office talking with various people?" Stanley asked.
"Correct," Smith said.
The money was not misspent, however, because the federal government gave Lingle the money to use at her discretion. Smith said the money could have been used for any other project, including highway improvements.
"Despite the furloughs, our students improved in their performance in the Hawaii state assessments," Smith said after the hearing. "We’re glad all of the furlough days have been done away with, and we were able to do so in a fiscally responsible fashion and still preserve this money for STEM improvement."
Smith also said Lingle’s decision to use the discretionary "Part B" stimulus money was praised by reviewers who oversaw Hawaii’s application for the Race to the Top Fund, a competitive national grant that awarded an additional $75 million in stimulus funding for state education.
Hawaii has been awarded a total of $267.1 million in education stimulus funding, with about $157 million budgeted toward salaries in the state DOE and the university system.
The money must be encumbered by September 2011 and spent by the end of next year. U.S. Department of Education officials are expected to visit early next year as part of a monitoring plan submitted by the state.
By comparison, California has been awarded $6 billion in U.S. Department of Education Recovery Act funding.
In total the state has been awarded about $1.1 billion in stimulus funding and has received about $342.8 million so far. About 743 jobs have been funded, according to the federal Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. The full allotment is expected to fund about 3,512 jobs.
By contrast, California is allotted $23.5 billion in stimulus funding and has received about $3 billion so far.
The state Department of Transportation also outlined its stimulus-funded projects yesterday. So far it has completed 15 of the planned 38 projects.
From July through September, about 154 jobs were funded or created through transportation projects across the state. Jiro Sumada, deputy director of the Highways Division, said they chose longer projects that reflected a greater diversity of trades.
About 49 percent of highway stimulus funding in the nation has gone toward road resurfacing projects. Sumada said 14 percent of Hawaii’s share went toward resurfacing.
"We have placed a greater emphasis on the duration of the projects and the diversity of the trades," Sumada said. "We tried to balance that with other types of trades like carpenters, electricians, concrete workers and steelworkers."
CORRECTION: Stimulus oversight committee chairwoman Kate Stanley said there are 176,000 Hawaii public schoolchildren. A previous article misquoted her as saying there are 776,000 schoolchildren. Also, Stanley was appointed to the commission by state House Speaker Calvin Say, but was selected as chairwoman by the commission. The previous article reported that she was appointed chairwoman by Say.