So here’s the situation – state education budgets have collapsed, and school districts are staring down the barrel of around 300,000 layoffs. Some Democrats want to help – Tom Harkin has a proposal for $23 billion in funding to keep teachers working, but he failed to gather the necessary support for it in the Senate, and though he planned to attach it to a must-pass war supplemental bill, in the end he dropped it. By contrast, House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey said he planned to include it in his version of that bill, but given the fact that the House had to take out a similar amount of state funding to fill a Medicaid shortfall, prospects are dim for getting the teacher funding (now called a “teacher bailout” by compassionate conservatives who apparently like their kids being taught in class sizes of 40 or 50) through Congress.
But wait! There’s already money appropriated for education through the Recovery Act. It isn’t as big as the $23 billion proposed by Harkin – right now you’re looking at more like $3.4 billion, but in an emergency, everything counts. Perhaps that money could save 40-50,000 teacher jobs, certainly a noble goal. So surely Arne Duncan, who termed the $23 billion in teacher funding a top priority, would re-route this already-appropriated $3.4 billion into saving teachers nationwide and not continue his blackmail “Race to the Top” scheme, forcing states into adopting unproven “reform” policies by dangling this money. Surely he would recognize the emergency we face and distribute that money more evenly to the states facing mass layoffs. Surely he would-
Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for the second phase of the Race to the Top federal education competition as the application deadline passed Tuesday night.
The states are hoping to win a piece of the $3.4 billion available under President Barack Obama’s signature education initiative.
Race to the Top aims to spur innovation by rewarding states that promote charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and intervene in low-performing schools.
Forty states and D.C. applied in the first round, but only Delaware and Tennessee won. They received a total of $600 million.
I know this education reform divide places some of the Democratic coalition on opposite sides. Reasonable people can disagree about the propriety of Race to the Top policies like charter schools and merit pay – personally I think that charter schools are often giant corporate welfare scams, and merit pay tied to an unreliable barometer of teacher excellence. But can there be anything crazier than running a contest right now when 300,000 teacher jobs are threatened? The biggest “reform” for schools in 2010 would be “funding them so they don’t have to fire members of their staffs.” We don’t know everything about how students best learn, but we do know that having a teacher helps.
I cannot imagine any legitimate justification for Arne Duncan running a contest at this time at the expense of maybe 50,000 teacher jobs.