States Must Meet Bar for Higher-Education Spending to Get Some Funds in Stimulus Bill

February 02, 2009

Washington — States would have to meet a minimum bar for spending on higher education in order to benefit from money set aside in the economic-stimulus legislation to help states limit cuts in appropriations to public colleges.

The legislation, which has passed the House of Representatives and is being debated in the Senate this week, says that states must spend at least as much on their public colleges in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years as they spent in the 2006 fiscal year to be eligible for money for higher education under a “state fiscal-stabilization fund.”

The House and Senate bills would provide $79-billion for that fund, including $39-billion for states to distribute to public colleges and elementary and secondary schools, and $25-billion for states to spend on “high-priority needs,” which could include education.

It is unclear what information would be used to determine whether states met the minimum requirement for spending on higher education. If data that are compiled each year by the Center for the Study of Education Policy, at Illinois State University, were used, two states — New Jersey and Rhode Island — would appear to be in danger of violating the maintenance-of-effort provision.

New Jersey provided about $2.03-billion in state-tax support for higher education in the 2006 fiscal year, but it allocated just over $1.98-billion in the 2009 fiscal year, according to the Illinois State data. Rhode Island provided higher education about $182.4-million in the 2006 fiscal year, compared with about $162.3-million for the 2009 fiscal year. —Sara Hebel