Edujobs Falters, But Is It Dead?
Even though the $23 billion education jobs bill faltered yesterday in Congress, proponents of this lifeline to the nation's public schools aren't giving up.
Yesterday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis. canceled a committee meeting intended to add the $23 billion to the war-spending bill. Supporters have already encountered trouble getting enough votes in the Senate. And, apparently, Democrats are privately grumbling that President Obama isn't more involved in making the case for this money, which public school advocates say is desperately needed to forestall draconian teacher layoffs, according to this Associated Press story.
But the National Education Association's government relations director Kim Anderson said the education jobs bill simply got caught up in deficit politics, which are playing out today as the House considers a package of tax extenders involving jobless benefits and some tax cuts. "It's just a delay in time line," she told me today, noting that there's every reason to believe edujobs will be a top priority when Congress returns next month from its Memorial Day recess.
Indeed, ex-NEA lobbyist Joel Packer, now of the Committee for Education Funding, told me he just left a late afternoon meeting with Obey's staff, who says they're committing to advancing the $23 billion legislation.
And that's what the U.S. Department of Education is saying, too. "Every indication we've received is that there is a strong commitment to do this when Congress returns," spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya said today. "The administration is committed to securing funding to prevent teacher layoffs. This is an investment in our children's future and in continued economic recovery. Congress should move quickly after recess and not let politics stand in the way."
The American Federation of Teachers also believes the delay had nothing to do with the merits of the bill. Says President Randi Weingarten: "The decision to delay the educator jobs bill was made only because of the press of items being dealt with yesterday, not because of a lack of support for the bill. Chairman Obey fully intends to move it forward and provide a lifeline to states to save educator jobs, because by saving these jobs we are saving kids' education."
In the coming days, expect proponents to concentrate more solidly on the House, especially as the Blue Dog Democrats dig in their fiscal heels over any attempts to add to the deficit by spending money without finding offsets somewhere else in the budget.
Packer, the executive director of the education funding group, a coalition of education advocacy groups, said it will continue to make the case that spending $23 billion to save teacher jobs meets the definition of emergency spending, which doesn't need a budgetary offset. "There's an immediate need. It's time-sensitive. And hopefully it's just one time," he said.
For a breakdown of how many jobs per state might be saved, check out this new policy brief from the Education Commission of the States.
Proponents say it sure would be nice if Obama came out with a forceful plea for the money. But they point out that plenty of his surrogates are taking on that role. Christina D. Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, made the case in an op-ed in the Washington Post today. On Wednesday, leaders in Congress joined union officials and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in launching a big push for the bill. White House economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers has called the money "very important." White House Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes has touted her support. And yesterday, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement calling for emergency funding for teacher jobs.
Are any of these people as good as Obama using the full force of his bully pulpit to make the case? Probably not. But as the NEA's Anderson puts it: "I don't know how much more unequivocal the administration could be. They've clearly jumped behind this. They want it."
Still, the jury remains out on whether edujobs will see the light of day, though proponents are certainly nowhere close to giving up. So far, things looks gloomy as election-year politics seize hold of Congress and concerns over deficit spending continue to mount. If politicians can find $23 billion in spending cuts to offset the spending, however, then things may get brighter.