Democrats called it stimulus spending, but Republicans derided the measure as another Washington "bailout" and voted heavily against it. They called the bill a blatant attempt to buy votes in the midterm elections and cast doubt on the job estimates.
The law provides $10 billion to school districts and $16 billion for six more months of increased Medicaid payments.
Joe Morton, state schools superintendent, said the money will be distributed to the states by the U.S. Department of Education within 45 days. "The intent is to offset further layoffs or hire people that couldn't be hired," he said.
In Huntsville, the school board laid off about 220 teachers and other school employees this summer. The board this summer had already rehired two dozen.
Across the state, Morton said public schools were short about $220 million in anticipated tax revenue this year. Morton said the federal dollars will especially help rural systems, such as Coosa County, where he said the state recently intervened.
He said Coosa has little local tax support and was already operating with the state's minimum number of teachers when the state prorated the budget, providing 7.5 percent less than promised to local schools. Coosa could no longer cover its bills. Even with the federal money for salaries, Morton said such systems may still have difficulty in paying utility bills and buying diesel fuel.
"I know Huntsville thinks it's in the worst of shape," said Morton, "but we've got some systems that are in much more dire straits."
Both Alabama senators and six of the seven congressmen voted against the funding.
The only Alabama member voting for the aid was U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham. In a brief interview on his way to vote, Davis said the money would help with the state's budget shortfall and save some teacher jobs.
"I certainly recognize the public's perception is that most of the policies in Washington aren't working, and I certainly saw that on the campaign trail when I talked to voters around the state," Davis said. "But I think this is something that is necessary."