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Teacher Groups Protest Earmark Reform

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote this week on a proposal to ban congressional earmarks, basically insertions into appropriations bills for pet projects.

But education organizations that recruit, train and provide professional development for thousands of teachers are encouraging senators to vote "no" on the measure. They argue that their own programs would be caught up in the "broad" definition of earmark spelled out in the bill, which is being sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican.

The groups include the National Writing Project, which sponsors professional development for teachers on how to teach writing and literacy; the teacher and leadership-training groups New Leaders for New Schools and Teach For America; and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which oversees the national board-certification process. The organizations' activities are authorized in federal law and generally receive specific allotments each year in the federal-appropriations cycle.

In a letter they sent to senators last week, the groups said that their programs are "nationally structured programs with many years of bipartisan support," not spending that aids only a specific local constituency, i.e., Alaska's infamous Bridge to Nowhere.

Earlier this year, many of these same groups fought a proposal by the Obama administration, in its fiscal 2011 budget request, to merge these one-off allotments and smaller teacher-quality programs into a series of larger, competitive grants.

UPDATE (Nov. 30): The Senate on Tuesday rejected the Republican bid to ban earmarks, on a vote of 39-56, but that doesn't mean the effort is finished. The Associated Press notes that more senators supported the measure this time, compared to a 29-68 vote earlier this year, and with Republicans gaining more seats next year, the vote could be even closer in the future.

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