President Barack Obama is relying heavily on educators to pull the country out of its economic doldrums, and Maryland will soon receive $210 million in federal stimulus dollars for local school districts.
Acknowledging that the huge federal package needs a jump-start of its own, Obama on Monday announced an accelerated spending timetable for a variety of programs, including money for 135,000 teachers, principals and support staff nationwide.
While the administration portrayed the announcement as a new initiative, school systems across the state were already prepared to spend federal money.
Taking advantage of the ready pipeline from the U.S. Department of Education to states and localities, Baltimore and surrounding counties have already accounted for much of the stimulus money in their budgets for the coming school year.
The bulk of Maryland's schools funding - which will reach $589 million over two years - will go to make up for what would have been shortfalls in state allocations to local school districts because of declining revenues.
Gov. Martin O'Malley had flexibility in allocating the first wave of federal spending that Maryland received earlier this year, and gave a large portion of it to schools.
"There is no doubt that the money is saving jobs and filling in holes that would have been there," said Maryland school superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
Other stimulus spending is apparently marching more slowly.
Surrounded by his Cabinet on Monday, Obama emphasized what has become a dominant issue of public concern: an economy that keeps bleeding jobs.
He concentrated in his remarks on the billions of dollars from a taxpayer-funded plan that will be disbursed this summer, although much what he described was already in the works, spurring new debate about just how much the $787 billion federal plan is helping.
"We've done more than ever, faster than ever, more responsibly than ever, to get the gears of the economy moving again," Obama said, acknowledging that the country was "still in the middle of a very deep recession" despite recent jobless numbers that were better than expected.
But at the same time, he said he wasn't happy with the progress made so far and pressed his Cabinet to keep at it.
In Maryland, only $1.2 million of the stimulus funds for education has been spent so far, for cafeteria equipment.
Beginning next month, the flow will increase as money goes to general education funds of local school systems, Grasmick said. Baltimore, for instance, will receive $33 million, saving the city from making some cuts.
"The recovery funds were an extraordinary godsend in that it allowed us to fund the schools at the same level. ... Many, many positions and programs have been saved," said Andr?s Alonso, city schools chief.
The remainder of the money will go toward one-time expenses.
In Anne Arundel County, $9 million in new money will be spent on special education, said Susan Bowen, director of budget and finance.
The county plans to buy a significant amount of new technology, called smart boards, that allows special education students to interact more easily in the classroom.
In addition, the county will train general education teachers in how to help plan their lessons for a wide range of students who may be in one classroom, including special education students.
Without the stimulus dollars, said Bowen, "I don't know how we would not be looking at some layoffs."
Alonso said that recently, however, it appears the U.S. Department of Education may be putting more strict rules on how the stimulus money will be spent.
The ramp-up announced by Obama is not surprising; the administration had always viewed the summer as a peak for stimulus spending, as better weather permits more public works construction ranging from parks and wastewater projects to improvements at airports and veteran medical centers.
Republicans remain critical of the stimulus spending, slamming it as a big government program that ultimately will do little for recovery.
The sheer magnitude of the spending plan and its long-term costs to the public have raised concern for many Americans and given Republicans a foothold.
Just how much of an impact Obama's recovery program had on the pace of job losses is up for debate.
Obama has claimed as many as 150,000 jobs saved or created by his stimulus plan so far, even as government reports have shown the economy has lost more than 1.6 million jobs since Congress approved funding for the program in February.
Obama initially offered his stimulus plan as a way to put people back to work, a promise that 3.5 million jobs would be saved or created.
The administration's predictions that unemployment would rise no higher than 8 percent already have been shattered.
In the coming months, Health and Human Services will provide funding for 1,129 health centers to provide expanded service for 300,000 patients; Interior will begin improvements on 107 national parks; Veterans Affairs will start work on 90 medical centers in 38 states; the Justice Department will fund 5,000 law enforcement jobs; the Agriculture Department will begin 200 new rural waste and water system projects; and the Environmental Protection Agency will begin or accelerate the cleanup of 20 Superfund sites.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Federal stimulus projects getting under way nationwide:
* Expanded patient service at 1,129 health centers
* Improvements at 107 national parks
* 5,000 law enforcement jobs funded by Department of Justice