Yesterday, the House passed an $80 billion war supplemental, which will go towards paying for an additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. But to sweeten the pot for those hesitant to support more money going to Afghanistan, the bill also includes $10 billion in aid to prevent school districts from laying off teachers.
While the goal of preserving teaching jobs is an important one, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) chose to offset the spending with cuts to two of the Obama administration’s education reform programs, Race to the Top and the Teacher Inventive Fund. This has led the White House to issue a veto threat:
The White House has promised to veto a House war funding bill over proposed cuts to education reform programs…”We do not believe that taking money out of that important investment makes any sense at all. The president’s been clear with Congress that that doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
“We’re very concerned,” says Peter Cunningham, a spokesman for Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “We think it’s a big mistake. These are the wrong offsets.” Obey, for his part, did not take the criticism well. “Obama may be a miracle man, but he can’t change the money [realities],” Obey said, calling Race to the Top “walking-around money” and a “slush fund.”
But Race to the Top, according to the New Teacher Project, “has already accelerated education reform by decades in some states.” “While Race to the Top has only been in existence for a short time, it has yielded some of the most dramatic state education reforms the country has seen in many years,” said CAP Vice President for Education Policy Cindy Brown. The Teacher Incentive Fund, meanwhile, is one of the best ways to support the development of teachers.
These sorts of reforms are critical to not only turning around the education system, but the economy as a whole. According to research done by McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, “if the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher.” “This represents 9 to 16 percent of GDP,” the firm found.
“Obviously, the priority is to prevent education cuts. But Obey’s plan does not prevent education cuts,” wrote Jonathan Chait. “It simply sloshes money from one pool of education funding into another, with the net effect being to hamper reform efforts.” Hopefully the Senate will take care of this when its turn on the war supplemental comes up.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), along with 12 other Democratic senators, has penned a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye calling the proposed cuts “unacceptable”:
Using these programs as offsets for teacher jobs presents us with a false choice between supporting teachers or supporting these critical reform efforts. We are committed to working with you to find other offsets to ensure that we can support our teachers and continue funding these innovative efforts.