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San Diego Unified expects to receive more than $37 million in added Title 1 federal funding for disadvantaged students and $28.7 million in special education funding under the federal stimulus bill, according to an estimate done Friday by the Congressional Research Service, an agency that provides information to Congress. The money is estimated to total $65.7 million and covers a two year period but can be spent during either or both years, said Superintendent Terry Grier.

The influx would mean a dramatic increase in the Title 1 funds. Last year San Diego Unified allocated roughly $19 million in such funding to schools; this year it had planned to allocate $24 million. That money recently became the focus of a heated debate over how to split the funds among schools that culminated with San Diego Unified board reversing an earlier decision to raise the poverty threshold for schools to get the money. The recent decision means that all schools where 40 percent or more of students are impoverished can now benefit from the boosted federal funds.

Special education money is a different story. The school district now spends roughly $80 million from its general fund to supplement the government money provided for special education. San Diego Unified expects that it will be able to use up to 50 percent of the new special education money to replace school district funds used to plug that gap — but no more.

The result is that the stimulus money helps, but does not solve, the larger problem facing San Diego Unified. Because the money can only be spent on those specific programs — Title 1 and special education — shortfalls remain in other areas. Prior to the federal stimulus being approved, San Diego Unified estimated that it would need more than $63 million in savings and added revenue to close an expected deficit for next school year.

So the bottom line is that the exact impact of the federal dollars on the overall gap remains unclear, said James Masias, chief financial officer in the school district. The numbers are still changing as state legislators argue over the budget. And Masias fears that the state shortfall is actually growing.

EMILY ALPERT

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