New Push Launched for Education Jobs Bill
By Alyson Klein
The presidents of both national teachers' unions joined key lawmakers and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Capitol Hill today to drum up support for legislation that would provide $23 billion to help school districts cope with a looming tidal wave of layoffs.
Supporters say up to 300,000 education jobs-including teachers, support-staff members, and others-may be riding on the latest version of the bill, which relies on a funding mechanism that supporters say is more narrowly targeted than previous education aid under the federal economic-stimulus program.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he plans to introduce the measure as an amendment to the must-pass emergency-spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that his panel is considering tomorrow.
The original plan was for the Senate to vote on the language first, but the measure's sponsor, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said yesterday he didn't have the 60 votes needed to cut off debate in order to pass the bill.
But if the language makes it through the House of Representatives, it can be included in a conference report reconciling the two bills. Conference reports can't be amended, so if Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Senate decided to vote against the measure, they'd also be voting against the entire war supplemental-spending bill and could be accused of defunding the troops in an election year.
The House passed a similar provision on a different jobs bill back in December. But that vote was very close, and the legislation isn't a sure bet this time around. Moderate Democrats are concerned that there is no cut to offset the new education spending. And many Republicans oppose what they deem a "bailout" for education.
Supporters of the bill were quick to point out what they see as the reasons lawmakers may suffer politically if they don't vote in favor of the legislation.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that school districts, which have been working to implement changes to improve education, would have to lay off teachers because of problems caused by "financial scandals," an apparent reference to Wall Street.
"It will be a scandal on this Congress" if lawmakers fail to act, he said.
Secretary Duncan said that educators play a role in the overall economy, purchasing houses and groceries and contributing to their communities, so the economic impact of massive layoffs could be substantial. He said that the bill's language has the full support of the White House, and that he has spoken personally to President Barack Obama about it.
The language Mr. Obey is scheduled to introduce in his committee on Thursday differs from other versions of the bill in a few key ways.
Earlier proposals were modeled on the $48.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-the stimulus program-which let states use their allocations first to restore state cuts to K-12 and higher education and then distribute the rest of the money to districts based on existing formulas.