AUSTIN — The U.S. Education Department has rejected Texas' application for $830 million in federal aid, which many school districts were counting on to salvage jobs and avoid potential layoffs.
Gov. Rick Perry called on the federal agency to "find legally appropriate ways" to deliver the money to Texas school districts this year or to set aside the funds so Texas can apply again next year, after lawmakers write the next biennial budget.
Perry's office also left open the possibility of a legal challenge.
"Texas continues to explore our options, including legal options, to secure these funds for Texas classrooms," spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said. The federal aid is part of a $10 billion jobs package approved by Congress in August. Under a Texas-only provision by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, the governor must commit to keep education funding at the same proportionate level for three years to receive the aid.
Federal officials say the aid package could help fund an estimated 14,500 jobs in Texas as school districts consider staff reductions amid shrinking budgets.
Tarrant County area schools were set to receive nearly $60 million. The Fort Worth school district was eligible for $21 million of that.
Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott and an emissary for Perry met with federal officials late last month in an attempt to bypass the conditions and get the money. But the Education Department notified Scott in a letter released Thursday that granting the aid "would not be consistent with the statutory requirements."
"As such, we cannot award Ed Jobs funds to Texas at this time," Assistant Education Secretary Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana said in the letter. Melendez, however, noted in her letter that the Education Department is prepared to release the money to Texas if it gets a request that conforms with the Texas-only provision. She also noted that Scott and other state officials have indicated that they envision submitting another application that "does not contain conditional assurances.
"If Texas submits an approvable application, the department will award the state its Ed Jobs allocation without delay so that local school districts may hire or retain teachers and other employees to provide educational and related services" in 2010-11, she said.
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