House Passes First Education Reform Bill
Last week, President Obama made a speech before a joint session of Congress to gain support for his new $447 billion jobs bill to be introduced sometime this week. Among the many new spending initiatives, the president spent significant time discussing education and increased investments in hiring new teachers and modernizing schools with improvements and technology.
The president's plan would invest $25 billion of federal funds on school infrastructure to modernize and make improvements to an estimated 35,000 public schools, including spending on computer lab technology and emergency infrastructure repairs. Another $5 billion is expected to go to community colleges for repairs.
In conjunction with the funding for repairs, President Obama's plan would require an additional $35 billion to prevent teacher layoffs and to increase hiring. Experts estimate that the funds could potentially save 280,000 teacher jobs and support the hiring of thousands more across the country.
Following the speech, administration officials argued that the president's jobs package included provisions that, at one time or another, held widespread bipartisan support. While this is true in regard to the tax cut provisions, the education spending elements are considered an appeal to his base, rather than a serious legislation proposal with a strong chance of passage, according to analysis by Education Week.
Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce John Kline (R-MO) was not convinced. "Common sense tells us that putting the federal government in the business of school construction will only lead to higher costs and more regulations. It also tells us that another teacher union bailout will not ensure a quality education for our children," said Congressman Kline speaking for the Republicans on his committee.
The Obama campaign certainly realizes that they will need the grassroots support of the NEA and AFT to help get out the vote in the coming months. While the NEA has already endorsed President Obama's re-election campaign, many status quo teacher union positions stand in stark contrast to the Department of Education's ambitious reform proposals. Regardless of whether to plan will pass or not, many believe President Obama is attempting to appease and rally his union base with these proposals.
Department of Education Back-to-School Bus Tour
Last week, the "Education and the Economy" Back-to-School Bus Tour took Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior staff to more than 50 events throughout the Midwestern United States. During the tour, Duncan and staff promoted the Obama administration's reform proposals and at the end of the week, the president's jobs bill and the push toward increased education spending.
Throughout the tour, the secretary discussed the key department goals, including instituting reforms, competitive grants, and increased investment in education. "No other issue is more critical to our economy and our way of life than education," Duncan said. "While visiting cities across the Midwest, I want to take the opportunity to promote the valuable work teachers, staff, and parents do every day to change students' lives and, ultimately, invest in our nation's future."
Some of Secretary Duncan's more controversial stops were in the states of Ohio and Wisconsin where labor reform legislation has been the subject of headlines for months. The tour will conclude late this week.
Click here for the complete list of speaking engagements and video clips.
Chairman Kline Discusses Consolidation of Federal Education Programs
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) appeared last week on "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" to discuss the six month anniversary of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on waste and duplication in federal programs. In his appearance he detailed the committee's efforts to increase efficiency and consolidate federal education programs.
"It's not enough to consolidate one or two or three or four programs," said Congressman Kline. "We need to look at this across agencies and really pare this thing down, change the way Washington works, change the way Washington spends taxpayer money, become more efficient, become more responsive. When you have that many programs, none of them are going to work well."
The March GAO report identified overlap and fragmentation among 82 distinct teacher quality programs and 47 separate job training initiatives, representing a taxpayer investment of roughly $22 billion.
While the Obama administration has not weighed in on the issue or put forward a plan to ensure better use of taxpayers' funds toward education, Chairman Kline detailed the committee's efforts to advance legislation that streamlines federal spending by eliminating, what they claim are, more than 40 duplicative and unnecessary K-12 education programs. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (H.R. 1891) in the coming weeks.
Click here to watch the video clip.
This Saturday, September 17 is Constitution Day/Citizenship Day, commemorating the September 17, 1787, signing of the U.S. Constitution. In recognition, traditionally Congress has mandated that every educational institution receiving federal funds take a day to teach about the seminal document. Since September 17 falls on a Saturday this year, institutions may celebrate either the preceding or the following week.
To assist students and educators in learning about the constitution, free online resources are available from the Department's Federal Resources for Educational Excellence website, as well as the National History Education Clearinghouse and the National Archives and Records Administration.