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Obama Talks Money for Education Jobs, School Facilities

By Alyson Klein — August 30, 2011 1 min read
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President Barack Obama in the coming weeks is expected to unveil a new package aimed at boosting job creation. And a lot of advocates are hoping that he will include new money to help stave off teacher layoffs, plus funding to help schools revamp their aging facilities.

Obama gave those folks a reason to be optimistic this morning, when he talked about education in an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a nationally syndicated radio program.

You can read the whole transcript here, but here are a few relevant snippets:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: ... So we don't have magic bullets, but what we do have, I think, is the capacity to do some things right now that would make a big difference ... TOM JOYNER: Like? OBAMA: For example, putting people to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools all across America. A big chunk of the loss of employment was in the construction industry. Well, the fact of the matter is that although the housing market is going to take some time to recover, we've got a lot of stuff that needs to get done. There are schools all across the country that right now you could put people to work fixing up. There are roads and bridges right now that need to be improved. And so we've called for the creation of a special fund that can leverage not only public dollars but also private dollars to start getting those projects moving. So that's an example. We've got the capacity right now to help local school districts make sure that they're not laying off more teachers. We haven't been as aggressive as we need to, both at the state and federal level. JOYNER:... [W]hen you come next week with your jobs plan, how are you going to get it passed when everybody in the Republican Party seems to say no to everything you say yes to? OBAMA: Well, look, this has been a problem for two and a half years now, but despite that fact, we've been able to get health care passed. Despite that fact, we've been able to make sure that we put more money into the Pell Grant program. ...

Will the president try to put some money where his mouth is? That’s unclear for now. A White House spokeswoman said details of the package are still under wraps.

But, if Obama does include new money for education in his jobs package, it’s going to face an uphill battle in Congress. Remember, funding for school construction was a major sticking point in the original stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Also, it was relatively easy for Obama to get some $100 billion for K-12 in the stimulus back in 2009, but he had a very tough time getting Congress to create the Education Jobs Fund last year—back when Democrats had healthy majorities in both chambers. And that was funded at just $10 billion.

Given that the federal government has been brought to the brink of a shutdown—and nearly defaulted on its debt—over spending issues this year, it’s hard to imagine the president getting a lot of support from congressional Republicans for more money for edujobs or construction. Just proposing the funding could spark a bloody fight, with GOP lawmakers arguing that the original stimulus hasn’t spurred much change in education.

But that’s not to say folks in K-12 Land aren’t going to make their case. For instance, check out the 21st Century Schools Funds’ take on how school construction funding could boost the overall economy.

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