Lack Of Republican Support Pushes Bill To Prevent Mass Teacher Layoffs From The Senate To The House

blackboardEarlier this month, the Obama administration asked that a $23 billion bill to aid states in preventing mass teacher layoffs be included in the war funding supplemental that the Senate is currently debating, and that the House plans to pick up sometime in the not-too-distant future. Since then, Republicans have been unfairly characterizing it as a “bailout,” with the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), saying that he would push his party to vote against the overall bill if it included the money for teachers.

The effort’s main advocate, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), has been searching the Senate for votes. However, since he needed sixty votes to add an amendment to the supplemental and no Republicans agreed to offer their support, he relented. But House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) picked up the ball and ran with it:

Unable to find any Republican support, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin said today he will not offer an amendment on education jobs funding to the FY10 supplemental bill…Instead, the $23 billion in education money, intended to avert hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs, will be included in the supplemental package being put together by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, according to a draft.…Obey will hold a press conference Wednesday about the measure, with House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller and Education Secretary Duncan attending.

Senate Democrats said that they would support keeping the measure in the final supplemental bill negotiated between Congress’ two chambers.

States are projected to cut as many as 300,000 teaching jobs this year, as they grapple with budget deficits that amount to hundreds of billions of dollars in the wake of the Great Recession. Lewis’ own state is looking at more than 20,000 potential layoffs alone. In fact, many states are slashing their education budgets to ribbons across the board. As Harold Myerson pointed out, “a recent American Association of School Administrators survey of 453 school districts in 45 states shows how bad things are”:

One-third of the districts are looking at eliminating summer school this year. Fourteen percent are considering going to four-day weeks (last year, just 2 percent did). Fully 62 percent anticipate increasing class size next year, up from 26 percent in the current school year. The teacher-to-pupil ratio, the AASA says, will rise from 15 to 1 to 17 to 1.

One of the criticisms of the Harkin bill is that a spending offset hadn’t been pinned down, and Harkin suggested designating the money as emergency spending to comply with pay-go rules. But I can think of some oil company subsidies that we could do without, if this is the main thing preventing the bill from passing.

Just this week, the Georgia State Board of Education waived caps on class size, the latest in cost-saving moves across the country that could adversely impact students. In light of this, it seems prudent to at least consider a way to keep teachers teaching and class sizes from expanding out of control. But Senate Republicans couldn’t be bothered.