The White House formally backed proposals by Congressional liberals that would provide at least $23 billion dollars to states specifically to save education jobs and prevent teacher layoffs. And they even provided a political strategy, to fold the spending into upcoming emergency supplementals.

In a letter from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to leaders in the House and the Senate, he expressed serious concern that up to 300,000 education jobs are at risk from state budget layoffs, as well as expected cuts in police and fire safety. And here is Duncan’s remedy:

We applaud Chairmen Harkin, Miller and Obey for crafting legislation in direct response to these challenges. S. 3206, the Keep Our Educators Working Act, H.R. 2847, the Jobs for Main Street Act, and H.R. 4812, the Local Jobs for America Act, each call for $23 billion in emergency support to preserve education jobs modeled after the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) established in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). This funding would keep teachers in the classroom while helping to sustain meaningful and necessary reforms in public education across the country.

We urge Congress to include this funding in the supplemental appropriations bills soon to be considered. We also urge Congress to include $2 billion in support to localities for police and firefighters to ensure that our communities remain safe, as well as $1 billion in funds for the Child Care and Development Block Grant to preserve early childhood education jobs and ensure that our youngest children do not lose the supports and services critical to their learning and overall well-being.

The emphasis is mine, and I highlighted that portion because the White House is basically saying here to include $23 billion for schools in the emergency supplemental funding for Afghanistan. That’s about as close to a “must-pass” bill as you can get, and would ensure that 300,000 teachers stay on the job in the coming year. Tom Harkin was already planning to offer his bill as an amendment to the supplemental; the White House is basically advising Congressional leaders to fold it into the bill.

Robert Kuttner’s piece in The American Prospect, claiming that there will be no new jobs bills this year and that major Social Security cuts along with a Value Added Tax are on the way, should be completely frightening to everyone. But the strategy outlined here stands in direct contrast to that – a small but important stimulus of $26 billion, if you add the police and fire spending, that could save as much as 300,000 jobs. Not only that, it provides a political strategy instead of the defeatism that a bold new jobs bill “can’t pass.”

I remain extremely dubious of the fiscal commission, but I’m going to stand behind this action to preserve local jobs in education through targeted state fiscal relief.