Schools could have part of their share of the federal economic stimulus package soon. "We will have 50 percent of that money available to schools, we are told, by the end of March,” the state schools superintendent, Sandy Garrett, said Tuesday. The state Education Department is set to receive an estimated $287 million for special education and Title I, which is designed to improve the achievement of disadvantaged students. School district officials can use the first half of the money for programs they already have, Garrett said. Programs should be listed on applications districts turned in to the Education Department in October. The second half of the money will be used for new programs and school districts will turn in their plans for those funds this summer, she said. Garrett met with most of the superintendents in the state last week to discuss the initial guidelines for the federal money, and officials are awaiting final guidelines. Superintendents are pleased and excited, she said. "No. 1, they’re a little stunned,” Garrett said. "They’ve never had special education fully funded.” All of the money will go through the department’s funding formula, but will be in a separate category so people can easily see how the federal money is being spent, she said. The state also will receive more money through the governor’s stabilization package, of which about $245 million is for education programs. "I will be asking for additional dollars for better state tests,” she said. Garrett said she wants state tests to have open-ended questions more like those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, rather than multiple-choice questions. She said she also wants money to help districts improve their test data gathering and tracking systems.