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Gov. Gary Herbert has called a special legislative session for next week to approve $101 million in federal aid to cash-strapped school districts.

Legislators will meet Wednesday to authorize districts to receive the federal money. About half of it will be used to cover a budget shortfall created because tax collections haven't met the projected levels. The remainder will be distributed to school districts based on a formula.

Conservative Republican lawmakers had argued the state should refuse the federal money. But Congress structured the law in such a way that if the state rejected the funding, the U.S. Department of Education could send the money directly to Utah school districts.

Legislators went as far as having their legal counsel explore the potential for a lawsuit against the federal government to try to block the funds, but lawyers from both the Utah Attorney General's Office and the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel said such a legal challenge would be futile.

Legislative leaders and the governor had considered calling a special session in October, but it was put off until after the Nov. 2 election in an attempt to remove election-year politics and squabbles tied to House and Senate leadership races.

The $101 million that Utah stands to receive in federal education assistance is part of a $10 billion aid package passed by Congress earlier this year. The state also will receive nearly $40 million in Medicaid funding to help deal with increased caseloads in the program that provides health care to the poor, but lawmakers are not required to approve those funds.

Under the law, the education funds are required to be put toward hiring or retaining teachers or other classroom help.

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