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Harkin Proposes Job Aid for Cash-Strapped Schools

More money for schools contemplating layoffs, furloughs, and other cuts? It could happen if a bill set to be introduced this week by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, gains traction.

Harkin, who is the chairman of both the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education spending, is set to release a bill that would provide $23 billion to help schools keep teachers and other staff on the payroll, once funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dry up (the so-called "funding cliff" you've heard so much about).

The measure's $23 billion Education Jobs Fund would be based on the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund in the economic-stimulus package, according to Harkin's office. The money could be used for compensation and benefits to hold onto existing employees and to hire new staff to provide early childhood, K-12, or post-secondary services. It could also be used for on-the-job training for "education-related careers."

This bill matters because the Senate has been the hold-up when it comes to edu-job aid. The House of Representatives approved legislation late last year that would also include $23 billion in new education aid. That bill passed by a surprisingly slim margin, possibly because some lawmakers are antsy about spending more on economic stimulus as the mid-term elections get closer.

The Senate has passed other jobs legislation, but so far, no major money for education budgets. To help get momentum on the issue, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, introduced yet another bill to help stave off education job losses. Like the bill already passed by the House, it includes the $23 billion for edu-jobs, plus support for local governments.

Harkin could have an uphill task in getting his Senate colleagues to support more money for schools. He's holding a hearing later this week that will serve as an infomercial for his bill, highlighting major layoffs and programmatic cuts that could ensue in schools without more federal aid. The witnesses include Ray Cortines, the schools chief in Los Angeles, whose district is in famously terrible fiscal shape. It will be interesting to see if Republicans seem persuaded to support more money for schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will also be at the hearing, to talk about the administration's fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. Watch to see if Harkin tries to pin him down on whether more education aid is needed. So far, the administration hasn't officially asked for the second round of aid.

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