Senate to consider $23 billion for schools
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading Senator on education intends to attach $23 billion for public schools to a military spending bill that could come up for debate this week, his office said on Wednesday.
Iowa's Tom Harkin, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, introduced legislation this month to create an education fund modeled on the $40 billion state stabilization account in the economic stimulus plan passed last year.
It would be intended to stave off "a massive wave of layoffs in our schools and institutions of higher learning that could weaken our economic recovery and cause serious damage to our education system," he said in a statement.
Similar legislation has passed the House of Representatives.
States have been concerned about the impending end of the two-year stimulus plan, saying their financial difficulties from the recession that began in 2007 will continue for many more years.
They have warned that if the federal government does not extend some of the stimulus aid, they will have to eliminate education jobs.
Harkin's office said the education fund would cover compensation and benefits, and provide for hiring new employees. It could also pay for training.
Democratic leaders hope to take up the war supplemental spending bill before the end of the week.
The top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees how federal money is distributed, slammed the education fund, calling it a "$23 billion bailout for state governments" that a country with a deficit of more than $1 trillion cannot afford.
"Let me be very clear, if Democrat leaders insist on shoving this ill-advised funding through -- especially on the backs of our troops in a critical war funding and disaster assistance bill -- I will oppose this legislation and urge my Republican colleagues to do the same," said Representative Jerry Lewis in a statement.
Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a letter to congressional leaders that "ongoing state and local budget challenges are threatening hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs for the upcoming school year, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 education jobs at risk."
Along with the $23 billion, Duncan said, Congress should extend $2 billion for supporting police and firefighters and $1 billion in grants for early-childhood educators.
Healthcare and education typically make up half of a state's spending, according to a report released by Standard & Poor's Ratings Services last month. It also said states face total budget gaps for fiscal 2011 of more than $100 billion.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Xavier Briand)
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