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Federal aid to reach schools in weeks

WASHINGTON – Education Secretary Arne Duncan Saturday announced that nearly $44 billion in federal stimulus aid to schools will be available to states in the next 30 to 45 days – soon enough, education officials hope, to prevent hundreds of thousands of layoffs nationwide and program cuts that would hit home in schools across the Washington region.

“This is really a chance to avert an educational catastrophe and to save a generation of kids,” Duncan said.

Another $49 billion will be distributed within six months, Duncan said, as he released a series of funding guidelines that had been eagerly awaited by states and school systems.

Of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Obama last month, about $100 billion will go to education. Much of the money falls into three broad categories: Title I, the venerable federal program to bolster the education of economically disadvantaged children; special education, for those with disabilities; and state fiscal stabilization funds, a one-time investment to help states balance budgets without mass layoffs or program cuts.

School systems have been hesitant to say how they will spend the money, because the timing of its release and other details were unknown until Saturday.

Guidelines posted by Duncan Saturday authorize the release of $5 billion in Title I funds and $6 billion for special education, about half of the total stimulus funding in those areas and a huge increase from typical annual spending levels.

By the end of March, governors will be able to apply for $32.5 billion in stabilization funds. Those dollars will be released within two weeks.

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