Duncan Voices Support for $23 Billion Education Jobs Measure
|Date Posted: April 15, 2010|
Harkin touted his plan — the Senate version of an education jobs bill that passed the House last year — at an oversight hearing on the U.S. Education Department's (ED's) FY 2011 budget request. ED Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, which Harkin chairs. Duncan voiced strong support for a jobs bill, but stopped short of endorsing the specifics of any one piece of legislation.
Harkin's move raises the chances that some relief for education may yet pass Congress. An omnibus stimulus bill that passed the House in December 2009 contained a $23 billion fund for state aid to education among other provisions, but the Senate balked at enacting another big spending bill. Lawmakers are now splitting up the large jobs package into smaller bills — such as the fund for education — that may be able to garner enough votes to make it to the president's desk separately.
Harkin said the "Keep Our Educators Working Act" would offer a one-year shot of funds to retain state and local education jobs.
The $23 billion represents about half of what was provided in the model for the legislation, the two-year State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. That money, which was contained in the mammoth American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), has largely been spent, even as states prepare for the 2010-11 school year under continuing fiscal stress. Harkin said he will work to quickly get the bill to the Senate floor given that school districts are making staffing decisions for the coming year now.
Duncan said the continued economic slide imperils from between 100,000 to 300,000 teacher and related positions. If these cuts are carried out, the secretary said it would result in a "catastrophe" that will not only impact students' quality of instruction but slow much-needed education reforms.
A survey conducted in March 2010 of 453 school administrators, released this month by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), found that the education sector is strained in the face of expiring ARRA dollars and continued state and local budget problems, even as the nation sees some signs of economic recovery. AASA said in a statement on the survey that school budget cuts "are noticeably more significant for 2010-11 than they were in 2008-09 and 2009-10."
Duncan rattled off statistics before the Senate panel pointing to why a new infusion of funding is needed:
- Harkin's home state of Iowa has announced 1,500 layoffs, half of them teachers, with possibly more to come;
- Illinois and California have each cut 20,000 teaching jobs; and
- To save money, some Kansas districts have gone to four-day school weeks.
Benefit packages are also being cut, AASA found, with 46 percent of surveyed respondents expecting to reduce health care benefits in the coming school year, compared with just 12 percent reducing these benefits in 2009-10. Twenty percent of respondents — compared with 3 percent for 2009-10 — said they will cut pensions in positions retained this fall.
Harkin's plan would allow funding for compensation, benefits and other expenses to retain employees and to hire new people for jobs in early childhood, elementary, secondary and postsecondary education and related services. Money could also pay for on-the-job training activities for education-related careers. He said the resources will help states and districts avoid a "funding cliff" that will lead to more layoffs.
Many Republicans and other deficit hawks are expected to oppose allowing the U.S. government to borrow even more money to pay for yet another education spending measure, in addition to supporting a $3.5 billion increase in ED's regular budget for FY 2011.
But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who attended the hearing, while voicing some complaints about certain ED initiatives (see related story), were generally supportive of the secretary's budget plans. The hearing is a signal that the congressional appropriators are getting ready to draft agency spending bills, which are supposed to be wrapped up by the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year.
Duncan said both pots of money were needed: an education jobs bill to prevent the layoffs that will keep education from sliding backward and an increase in regular education appropriations to propel reforms forward.
Watch the hearing and read additional testimony online at http://appropriations.senate.gov/htlabor.cfm?method=hearings.view&id=e58c8b62-a941-4981-922e-4fef7322868b.
— Erika Fitzpatrick