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Moderate Democrats Push Back on Cuts to Race to the Top, TIF

By Alyson Klein — June 30, 2010 2 min read
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Democrats who have supported education reform efforts are pushing back against a plan to divert funding already appropriated for the Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and charter schools to the education jobs bill.

This afternoon, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., a longtime charter school supporter, sent an e-mail out urging his colleagues to sign onto a letter to Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the sponsor of the legislation and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, urging him to reconsider the cuts.

Here’s a snippet from Polis’ letter:

Race to the Top has already led to major progress that will improve student achievement. The discussions and changes that have taken place across the nation in the past year have accelerated long overdue and necessary reforms. "But now, this progress is now threatened by the proposed $800 million cuts to three critical education reform programs: $500 million from Race to the Top, $200 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund and $100 million from the Charter Schools Program. While Chairman Obey's efforts to provide critical funding for cash-strapped public schools across the nation through a $10 billion Education Jobs Fund are commendable, it is very troubling that these three innovative programs were chosen to bear the brunt as offsets. This proposal undermines the President's effort to reshape and reinvent our nation's schools, by incentivizing educational innovation, building on what works, and rewarding results... "If we are to meet the President's goal of becoming global leaders in college graduates by 2020, we must rethink and reinvent our approach to education by moving forward with bold reforms. Unfortunately, the proposed cuts represent a major step backward."

Over on the Senate side, Michael Bennet, a fellow Colorado Democrat, is also questioning the offsets.

“We know we need to keep teachers in the classroom with our kids, and we also know that the status quo on public education simply won’t do,” Sen. Bennet said. “It cannot and should not be a choice between teachers and reform—we can and should support both. This short-sighted decision will deny local communities the opportunity to come together to think differently about education and improve outcomes for our kids from the ground up.”

Education advocates say they expect a similar response from Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.

For his part, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in an e-mail that he would have rather seen the jobs funding paid for through emergency spending—not cuts to existing programs.

“We have an emergency on our hands—teachers’ jobs and our children’s future are at stake. This initiative should have been funded through emergency spending,” Miller said. “Instead, Congress has determined this spending must be offset and is taking the steps it has to take to ensure our teachers are in their classrooms and our students don’t lose a year of learning.”

But he didn’t comment on the specific offsets selected. That’s notable because Miller has supported efforts to expand charter schools and boost performance pay and was a champion of the Race to the Top program during the creation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

UPDATE:The American Federation of Teachers is worried that the Polis letter could derail the edujobs bill and has written a memo to congressional offices asking them not to sign onto the letter. The union wrote that although Polis may have “good intentions,” the letter could hinder the overall jobs bill’s chances of passing.

Here’s a snippet from the AFT letter:

“The AFT requests that you ask your boss to refrain from signing on to the Dear Colleague letter being circulated by Representative Polis related to ‘Cuts to Education Reform.’ Regardless of Representative Polis’ good intensions this effort may derail the provision of $10 billion to prevent hundreds of thousands of layoffs, larger class sizes, the elimination of summer school, shortened school days and weeks, and a reduction in the number of programs available to help the students who need it most. As important, this Dear Colleague letter may threaten the approximately $5 billion for Pell Grants included in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill targeted at removing the majority of the Pell Grant shortfall, which will save Congress from either reducing the maximum Pell Grant or cutting other important programs.”

For more, check out my story on the jobs bill here.