Arne Duncan’s $800 million fight

$800 million is a lot of money but in comparison to the total federal budget of $3.6 trillion is represents less than .00022 percent. So why is Education secretary Arne Duncan fighting so hard to keep $800 million?

According to media reports, the $800 million comes out of his “Race to the Top” and other education reform programs to help offset a $10 billion package to protect education jobs in the House supplemental appropriations bill, which includes $33 billion for the wars.

Leading House Democrats proposed the offset in response to public school teachers who oppose some of the provisions of the “Race to the Top” program.

Teachers say the “Race to the Top” reforms emphasize testing and school privatization over a needed commitment to professional development and financial support for ailing schools. Under the reform, teachers argue, schools are forced to teach to tests or face closure and mass firings of school personnel.

The offset proposal has the administration in something of a quandary. It supports the provision of resources to help keep jobs, but it doesn’t want to give in on one of its key reforms.

“The administration supports passage of the House supplemental appropriations bill which included $10 billion for education jobs,” Secretary Arne Duncan emphatically told reporters Thursday, July 15 by teleconference. As recovery act funds that protected hundreds of thousands of public school jobs for the 2009 and 2010 comes to an end, more will be needed for this coming school year to help states avoid balancing their budgets by firing teachers, he warned.

From California to North Carolina, Missouri to Washington state, school districts may be forced to layoff thousands of teachers before the new school year starts to make ends meet, Duncan pointed out. If forced to do so, the people hurt will be kids and their families, administration officials pointed out.

White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer estimated that 100,000 to 300,000 teachers and school workers face layoffs if direct support isn’t supplied to the states quickly.

Congress needs to pass the supplemental to make this money available as quickly as possible. But the these funds shouldn’t be offset by eliminating money for the administration’s reform agenda, Duncan insisted. “We want to thank Congress for recognizing the critical importance of preserving education jobs and keeping the economic recovery going,” he added, “and we want to fight a way to pay for this without compromising education reform.”

“Jobs and reform have to continue to go hand in hand,” he said.

White House Director of the Domestic Policy Counsel Melody Barnes added a warning. “We don’t have to make a choice between reform and making sure that teachers are able to stay in the classroom,” she said. While the President supports the money for education jobs, “we will recommend a veto if the final bill includes cuts to reform programs” like “Race to the Top.”

White House advisers and officials have to decide if they are seriously willing to recommend vetoing a jobs bill to protect Arne Duncan’s $800 million.



Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.