The presidents of both national teachers' unions joined key lawmakers and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this morning on Capitol Hill to drum up support for the $23 billion edujobs legislation. Supporters of the bill say up to 300,000 jobs may be riding on congressional action.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he plans to introduce a version of 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 Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees education spending, said he didn't have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill.
But if the language makes it through the House, it can be included in a conference report reconciling the two bills. Conference reports can't be amended, so if Republicans (and moderate Dems) in the Senate decided to vote against edujobs they'd also be voting against the entire war supplemental and could be accused of defunding the troops in an election year ... so, tough vote there.
But will the language pass the House? A similar provision passed in a different jobs bill back in December, albeit on a very close vote. Of course, the midterm elections were much farther away at that point, and the political landscape seems to have shifted a bit as more incumbents lose their jobs.
Supporters of the current bill were quick to point out the reasons lawmakers may suffer politically if they don't act.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, had the line of the morning when he said that districts, which have been working to implement new reforms and 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 it fails to act, he said.
Duncan said that the language in the bill has the full support of the White House and that he has spoken personally to the president about it. If you remember, the administration kind of dragged its feet a few months back getting on board on edujobs, but Duncan appears to be pulling out all the stops to get this bill passed.
The language Obey is scheduled to introduce in his committee tomorrow differs from other versions of the edujobs bill in a few key ways.
*The four education redesign assurances, which weren't in the original House-passed version of the bill are back. Miller said this was necessary to assure passage. I think it's super interesting that he thinks his colleagues are more likely to support the bill if reforms are attached.
*There is $5.7 billion in the legislation to shore up Pell Grants for college students. But, while the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act asked states to restore money to both higher education and K-12, this legislation is only for K-12.
*Obey said the language making sure states don't divert this money to their rainy day funds is stronger. Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition of education groups, said the supplement/not supplant language that prohibits states from playing shell games with the money, is strong.
Do supporters have another idea if this tack doesn't work?
"You can't have a Plan B for stupidity," Obey said.
To help ensure passage of the bill, NEA and AFT are working on a major media blitz. It includes a commercial in which adorable children dressed in suits and carrying briefcases ask whether Congress would be more willing to save their favorite teacher or keep their classes small if the kids were Wall Street bankers.