CNMI Schools Get $8 Million Emergency Bailout from U.S. DOE

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Guam – Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan announced that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has signed off on $8 million in emergency jobs funding for the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System.  PSS plans to use the funding, part of an emergency package passed by Congress in August, to cover the upcoming 2.5 pay periods.

“We in Congress provided this emergency funding because school systems all around the country are facing the same budget shortfalls that PSS faces here in the Northern Marianas,” Kilili explained.

“The money will keep teachers on the job, rather then having them fired or furloughed.

“More importantly, this $8 million in emergency funding from Congress will help ensure that our children’s education—and their long-term ability to prosper and succeed in life—is not
shortchanged because of short-term, local budget problems.”

Sablan’s office has been working with PSS officials over the last several weeks to make sure there would be no delay in awarding the funds.

“PSS asked their congressional office to keep on top of their application, and we have been in contact with the Department of Education on a daily basis,” Kilili recounted.

“We got word Thursday that the application was approved, and passed along the good news, so it would be in the Commissioner’s e-mail in-box first thing Friday morning.”

Under terms of the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, 98 percent of the money must be spent for salaries of those directly involved in education.

Teachers, nurses, librarians, cafeteria workers, counselors, bus drivers, maintenance people, and principals working in our elementary and secondary schools will have their salaries paid over a five week period in September and October with the emergency funding. Only 2 percent may be used for administrative purposes.

Another restriction is maintenance of effort requirement. The CNMI government has agreed not to cut back on funding for K-12 and post-secondary education. The Commonwealth must maintain the same dollar levels or the same 26.689 percent of the local budget for education as in previous years. If it does not, the $8 million will have to be paid back to the federal treasury.

Kilili: “Congress must step in.”

Congressman Sablan was one of 21 original co-sponsors of the Local Jobs for America Act, which was the basis of the $8 million for PSS. The bill was introduced in March and—after much give-and-take among the House, the Senate, and the White House—became the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act.

“We understand what a stressful situation the budget shortfalls are for the employees of PSS and schools around the country. It is very difficult to teach effectively, when you are worried about your job and your paycheck.

“And we know that each school day is important to a student’s intellectual development. This $8 million in emergency funding helps ensure the school year is uninterrupted, so students can keep building on what they have already learned,” the Congressman explained.

“When teachers face layoffs, when our children are about to be robbed of their education,” said Sablan, “I believe Congress must step in.”

PSS wins Duncan’s commendation

Congressman Sablan also had words of praise for the Public School System, which submitted its application early and won approval in half the time that Secretary Duncan had set for his Department’s response.

“My thanks go to the staff at PSS, especially Commissioner Rita Sablan and Federal Programs Officer Tim Thornburgh, for getting the application for this funding in a full week before the deadline,” said Kilili.

“This enabled the Department of Education to review it and release the funding ahead of schedule.”

In making the award, Duncan, too, praised PSS, saying, “there is a huge sense of urgency to get these funds out the door. I commend the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for being one of the first to submit their application,” the Secretary said.

“PSS has built up the capacity and the trust that is needed to work effectively with federal agencies,” commented Sablan. “And that makes a tremendous difference.

“When there is that kind of mutual respect and confidence, everything goes so much more smoothly. And ultimately that is incredibly beneficial to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands.

“It’s a model for CNMI-Federal relations.”

$768,000 for Medicaid also included

In addition to the emergency jobs funding for PSS the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act provides six months of bridge funding for CNMI Medicaid, approximately $768,000.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act raised Medicaid funding by $1.5 million, but that increase expires on December 31.

The new health care reform law also raises Medicaid funding for the Commonwealth, but does not begin until July 1, 2011. Over the following 10 years the CNMI is eligible for $158 million in Medicaid assistance, three times what it would have received without the health care reform legislation passed by the Democratic Congress.

Other aspects of health reform have already started in the Commonwealth. Consumer protections—no limits on lifetime benefits, no cut-off of insurance because of illness, no difference in premiums for men and women, the ability to keep children on parental health insurance policies until age 26—now apply in the Northern Marianas just as in the rest of the United States.

And last week Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the availability of a $1 million grant to the CNMI Insurance Commissioner to monitor insurance premiums for excessive increases. The CNMI has until October 1 to apply for the $1 million.