Saturday, July 03, 2010

Obstacle(s) To Public Education

Co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Raul Grijalva was being a little charitable to the White House on Thursday when he announced his support of an amendment to H.R, 4899 by maintaining

We cannot continue on like this forever, but if tough choices must be made, I choose to keep teachers in schools rather than allowing class sizes to reach 50 or 60 students. Inner-city and rural schools, where pressures on public education are already severe, cannot bear the brunt of a round of massive teacher layoffs.

Grijalva rightly supports the effort of Representative David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, to add $10 billion to this year's Supplemental Appropriations Act to save the jobs of 140,000 teachers in the 2010-2011 school year. The Senate previously had passed a draft of the $80 billion bill, which was primarily a war-funding bill which included $37 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $13 bilion to people exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, and other items unrelated to the Pentagon.

A few of those items provided funding for the schemes of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Late Thursday, however, the House, in a vote of 239-182, approved the bill with Obey's amendment, which eliminated $500 million from the Race to the Top program, $200 million from the teacher incentive fund, and $100 million from the charter school program.

The proposed law now will go to a House-Senate conference committee. Not surprisingly, Senate Republicans are not pleased with the changes. Not surprisingly, neither is the White House, whose spokesman late Thursday warned "If the final bill presented to the President includes cuts to education reforms, the President's senior advisors would recommend a veto."

President Obama clearly doesn't agree with Representative Obey's ringing statement "I didn't come here to be Arne Duncan's congressman." It will be difficult, of course, for House Democrats to hold firm against Republican legislators and the White House determined to undermine public education.

We've been through this before. Democrats in the lower chamber for many months to pushed for genuine health care reform, eventually bowing before the combined efforts of the White House and congressional Republicans to prevent passage of anything which would offend the insurance, hospital, or pharmaceutical industries. Now there is the added pressure to tamp down on unemployment. However, with GOP rhetoric and votes against the Administration's (modest) stimulus packages and an extension of unemployment benefits, the GOP might as well figuratively say to the unemployed: Drop Dead. And the President seems to have fallen prey to the flavor of the month, deficit reduction, a bizarre objective during recession.

Whether President Obama and Secretary Duncan are indifferent to public education or simply unwilling to compromise their fetish for the euphemistically-characterized education "reform" is uncertain. The goal of those in the anti-government party (except when subsidies are needed for projects in their states or districts) is clearer. Charter schools: take taxpayer money from public schools, apply it to charter schools, then declare "government" schools a failure.

Representative Grijalva argues Congress must "stand with our public schools in their hour of need. The alternatives are too ugly to contemplate." But we may have to contemplate those alternatives, given one far-right party and a transformative, history-making President who cannot understand, as David Obey notes, "When a ship is sinking, you don’t worry about redesigning a room, you worry about keeping it afloat.”


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