School reform vs. school jobs? No.

July 1, 2010

Tucked away in a military spending bill in the House of Representatives is a false choice: saving jobs vs. education reform.

The proposal, by Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, came to light yesterday thanks to the considerable candlepower of Alyson Klein, half of the dynamic duo that covers federal education policy at Education Week. The measure is ostensibly aimed at finding $10 billion to save teacher jobs, but does so through what even Sec. Arne Duncan says are unnecessary cuts to the key education reform efforts.

Specifically, these cuts would take from currently funded areas: $500 million from Race to the Top, $200 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund, and $100 million from federal support for charter schools. These cuts would be catastrophic for 3 main reasons:

  1. This amendment will cut deeply into funds that are driving historic change in public education systems around the country.
  2. Many states have embarked already on politically difficult reforms based on the promised availability of funds that would be cut under this amendment. This will pull the rug out and betray promises to the states.
  3. This amendment pits jobs against reform—a choice that the Department of Education has made clear America does not need to make. As Department spokesman Peter Cunningham told Education Week today, “If Congress is determined to find offsets, we will help them do that, but these are not the right ones.” (See also this letter drafted by Democrats for Education Reform and signed by 26 education reform organizations — including NewSchools.)

A statement from the Obama Administration late today suggested that if the cuts were made, the President would veto the bill. “The President believes that we need to keep teachers in the classroom, and we have worked with Congress to find a way to pay for it. But the President also feels very strongly that we should not cut funding for Race to the Top, one of the most sweeping reform initiatives in a generation,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House, in an email to Ed Week’s Klein.

Reform advocates, including Education Trust’s Kati Haycock and Cynthia Brown of the Center for American Progress, have come out vocally against these unnecessary cuts. In addition, editorials in the Washington Post and Sacramento Bee have urged Congress to change course. (The entire issue is laid out well in a Post article yesterday, which quotes The New Teacher Project’s Tim Daly as rightly predicting rage among state education leaders if the Race to the Top rug is pulled out.)

But what can you do? Contact your member of Congress (find contact info for members of the House here and Senators here) via email or through the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 (if you call, ask to speak with the person responsible for education issues), and encourage others to do likewise. Let Congress know that you oppose the Obey Supplemental Appropriations Bill for the three reasons named above, and that they should find other places to make cuts than in the key funds for education reform.