The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation late Thursday night to help prevent teacher layoffs, despite opposition from the Obama administration, which threatened to veto the measure if it includes $800 million in cuts to its key K-12 initiatives.
The legislation takes aim at three of the administration's most prized education priorities. That includes cutting $500 million from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, which rewards states for making progress on certain education redesign initiatives.
It also would cut $200 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out grants to support pay-for-performance programs, and $100 million intended to help start new charter schools. The TIF received $400 million in fiscal year 2010, plus $200 million in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed last year. The charter program received $265 million in federal funding.
The jobs measure passed as an amendment to a military spending bill that had already been passed by the Senate. It was approved on a vote of 239 to 182 late Thursday, with one member voting present.
The money cut from the education programs would go toward a $10 billion fund aimed at helping states keep an estimated 140,000 teachers on the job and toward providing nearly $5 billion to help close a major shortfall in the Pell Grant program, which helps low-income students gain access to college.
Peter Cunningham, a spokesman for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, told me earlier this week that the administration supports the effort to save jobs, but thinks these are the wrong offsets and wants to help the Congress find the right ones.
But Rep. David R. Obey, the House Appropriations Chairman and the author of the bill, made no apologies for the education offsets he chose, which were part of a broader package of $16 billion in cuts to pay for the jobs fund, and other new domestic spending.
"The secretary of education is somewhat unhappy," Obey acknowledged. "One of the secretary's objections, evidently, is the fact that last year in the stimulus we provided him with a $4.3 billion pot of money to use virtually any way he wanted to stimulate educational progress--$4.3 billion. He has spent a small amount of that." Even if this legislation cuts $500 million, "that still leaves him with $3.2 billion that he can spend any way his department wants. ... The secretary is somehow offended because he only has $3.2 billion to pass around," Obey said. "To suggest that we're being unduly harsh is a joke."
The bill now moves to the Senate, which will be in recess until the week of July 12.
But, before that chamber considers the bill, moderate Senate Democrats and the administration may find another way to pay for the jobs package.