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U.S. Education Department goes on pre-shutdown spending spree

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There were national news reports that this happened in several federal agencies, and maybe it's not unusual as any fiscal year draws to a close, but one couldn't help but be amazed at the flurry of press releases coming out of the U.S. Department of Education in the days — and even hours — before the federal government went into partial shut-down mode.

Virtually all of them were to announce the awarding of grants — grants to states, grants to school districts, grants to universities, grants to outside organizations. It was a veritable grant bonanza.

The grants all appear to be perfectly appropriate and targeted at legitimate agency purposes. It was only surprising how many of them came out in such a short period of time, and it's hard to avoid the perception that much of it was motivated by the need to get money out the door before spending authority lapsed.

Of course, it's all but impossible to confirm that one way or another now. Their offices are now closed, at least for the time being.

It started becoming apparent last week. From Monday, Sept. 23, when the agency announced a $1.4 million grant to Family Health International in Washington, D.C. to establish a Center on Technology and Disability. It continued on Tuesday the 24th with the awarding of $9.2 million to 58 post-secondary schools — Butler County Community College and Kansas State University among them — for campus-based child care services.

There were two more on Wednesday, including $14 million in grants to 31 Native American tribes and organizations for career and technical education programs.

That was followed by three announcements on Thursday, including $89.8 million in Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) grants to 27 school districts in 12 states. The Wichita school district received about $4 million of that.

And all of that culminated in what may have been a single-day record for Department of Education grant awards — around 90 in all — in the final hours of the last business day before the agency's spending authority ran out. They included:

• $4.6 million in grants to five institutions for research projects aimed at helping improve the lives of people with disabilities.

• 17 grants totaling $2.8 million to charter developers for planning, program design, and initial implementation of new charter schools.

• $211 million in five-year grants to various states for demonstration projects designed to improve the education and employment outcomes of child Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and their families.

• $973,763 for George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to support the establishment and implementation of an Educational Facilities Clearinghouse.

• 60 grants totaling nearly $32 million to local districts and community-based organizations under the Carol M. White Physical Education Program.

• And a $924,512 grant to the University at Buffalo, "to promote the transfer of rehabilitation technologies that are developed with funding from the Department's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) into commercial and non-commercial products that will benefit individuals with disabilities."

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