JONATHAN COHN JULY 23, 2010
Last night, the Senate passed a pared-down version of a war funding bill that the House passed earlier this month. Billions in domestic spending, which the House had attached to the legislation, got the boot—including all of the money intended to prevent hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs.
“Edujobs,” as the provision is known, had been in trouble for months. It was initially a bill unto itself in the Senate, with a $23 billion price tag. But the Senate dropped it, after Republicans and conservative Democrats attacked it as a “bailout” (the nefarious political term of the moment). The House picked it back up as an amendment on the war funding bill, but it reduced the measure to just $10 billion and agreed to pay for it by slashing money from important education reform initiatives like Race to the Top. This prompted Obama to threaten a veto—but that’s now moot, thanks to the Senate’s decision not to include education funding, or any other domestic spending, in the war bill. Only 46 Democrats (and no Republicans) supported the House's version of the legislation.
So what happens now? Majority Leader Harry Reid, who chastised Republicans for “continu[ing] to push their job-killing agenda,” said Thursday that the Senate would look for other ways to pass the education funding. (I’m playing phone tag with Tom Harkin’s office—Harkin is chair of the Senate Health, Education, and Labor committee and the architect of the original edujobs bill—about what alternate routes might exist.) One way could be through an omnibus bill—a catch-all appropriations bill that might come up later this year, but after schools have already reopened for the fall. “Omnibus is the big endgame,” one education expert told me. Education Week's blog Politics K-12 has also reported that the funding could be put in a measure targeted at the Small Business Administration.
A more immediate question, and one that could influence the Senate’s actions, is what the reaction to this latest development in the edujobs saga will be. Will teachers’ unions agree to institute freezes or cuts to salaries and benefits in order to prevent layoffs—something many have resisted this year? Will states, school districts, and unions also agree to revise, in the long term, the ways teachers are hired, compensated, and fired, hopefully precluding the need for mass layoffs in the future?
Or will they continue to sit and wait for the federal money that may or may not come?