Just when you thought the education jobs bill was dead and buried, it gets a pulse.
The Senate is scheduled to vote tonight on a measure that would provide $10 billion to stave off education layoffs. And, as an added bonus, the bill would include $16 billion to help states with Medicaid funding. That money is almost as important for education as the jobs package, some advocates say, because a number of states were counting on the federal help and would need to go back and trim their budgets if it doesn't come. That would surely mean less money for K-12 education.
The Senate bill is fully offset, and it doesn't include those cuts to the administration's education reform priorities included in a similar House bill. (That was $500 million for Race to the Top, $100 million for charters, and $200 million for performance pay programs.) But it would cut some education programs. It includes a $50 million cut to the Striving Readers program, which helps finance adolescent literacy. And it would cut about $10 million from Ready to Teach, which finances telecommunications programs for teachers. It also includes an $82 million cut to student financial aid administration.
While not everyone is thrilled with those offsets, lobbyists tell me, they don't appear likely to hinder the bill's passage. More controversial is a change to the food stamp program, which wouldn't go into effect for several years. (So theoretically, Congress could pass the change, then restore the funding in another bill.) Advocates are optimistic that most Democrats will support the bill, but passage is far from a sure thing.
The problem: Even if the bill passes in the Senate tonight, the House of Representatives will still need to vote on it, and the House won't be back in session until the middle of September. By then, the school year will have already started. And, even if the House passes the bill quickly, the U.S. Department of Education will still need to require states to apply for the funds, and states will then have to distribute the money to districts.
The upshot? In some places, laid off teachers may find themselves rehired until a month or more into the school year. That's probably better than not having a job at all, but it seems far from ideal for the teachers, or arguably, the kids.