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Area gets stimulated

Date: 4/14/2009

More federal funds flow into Western Massachusetts

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- With students as a backdrop, Gov. Deval Patrick used Holyoke's Dean Vocational High School as the backdrop for the announcement the state has received $163 million in additional federal education Title 1 funds as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Patrick will use $620 million of federal stimulus funds the state has received for K-12 education, special education and higher education programs and services.

The allocation of the $163 million for cities and towns served by Reminder Publications is as follows: Agawam, $182,559; Chicopee, $966,827; Granby, $21,727; Holyoke, $3,111,306; South Hadley, $65,910; Springfield $8,673,713; Westfield, $467,474; and West Springfield, $414,386.

In addition, the following charter schools were awarded funds as well: the SABIS International Charter School in Springfield, $310,358; the Holyoke Community Charter School, $288,836; and the Martin Luther King Jr. School of Excellence in Springfield, $111,954.

The Title 1 funds are targeted at the districts and schools in the state that serve the highest concentration of low-income students. According to the press release from the event, the funds "will be used to help districts retain specialist teachers that help struggling readers, [and] purchase books, technology and other instructional materials that help students who are behind their peers receive support and instruction they need."

Prior to the press conference, Patrick toured the metal technology program at the high school and met with students from both Dean Voke and Holyoke High School to answer their questions on a variety of topics.

Secretary of Education Paul Reville described Patrick as "having led the charge" to convince the Obama Administration to include education funds as part of the stimulus package.

Patrick said the announcement of the additional federal funds comes after the state had raised $300 million to be used for low-interest college loans.

Despite the infusion of funds, Patrick said, "This is all good news, but it is not a panacea. The federal stimulus money does not let us off the hook nor should it. We continue to face serious challenges to our operating budget and our overall economic health in the Commonwealth."

Patrick believes that investment in education now will strengthen the state and "position us to ride the upswing in the economy when it comes."

When asked about the lists compiled by cities and towns of "shovel-ready projects" waiting to be funded by stimulus monies, Patrick said there are $25 billion worth of projects and the state has received $1 billion it could use to fund the projects. Patrick said flatly that not all of the projects are going to get funded and there are criteria imposed by the federal government that affect the selection of the projects.

Patrick added there are state resources that are "being blended in" for infrastructure repair and for the improvement of educational facilities.

He said it was "useful to have the inventory" of projects.

State Rep. Joseph Wagner, who is a member of the legislative committee advising and over-seeing the governor on the use of the federal stimulus funds, told Reminder Publications the process of how the funds go from Washington, D.C. to the states is a "little disjointed."

"The rules change as we go," he said. "[The funds] are subject to continuous review. It hasn't been a smooth process."

Wagner echoed what Patrick said about the number of projects. "At the end of the day many more projects need to be done than will get done."

The state representative expressed concern about the use of federal stimulus funds to support budget gaps.

"Using one-time revenues to fill budget holes is setting ourselves up to fail as we go forward," he said.


Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Sen. John F. Kerry announced two more stimulus funds coming to Massachusetts on Thursday. The state received $1.9 million for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $23 million for child care services in Massachusetts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to a press release, the emergency food and shelter funds would be used "for a broad range of services, including mass shelter, mass feeding, food distribution through food pantries and food banks, one-month assistance with rent, mortgage and utility payments to prevent evictions and transition assistance from shelters to stable living conditions. The program's goals are to allocate funds to the neediest areas; ensure fast response; encourage public-private sector partnerships; guarantee local decision-making; and maintain minimal but accountable reporting."

Hampden County received $150,553 of the $1.9 million.

The $23 million for child care services will be "to support child care services for families whose children require care while parents are out working, seeking work or receiving job training or education. States will use the funds to provide vouchers to families for childcare, to provide care through contracts with childcare centers, or, to invest in improvements in the quality of such care. Recovery Act dollars will support a wide range of childcare providers, including child care centers and home-based programs."