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Education Funding

Senators Tussle Over the Stimulus Funds

By Alyson Klein — February 03, 2009 2 min read
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It’s a busy day on the North side of the Capitol.

The Senate is debating its $888 billion version of the economic stimulus package, with an eye towards passing it by the end of the week and getting it to President Barack Obama for his signature And former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.C., pulled himself out of the running for Secretary of Health and Human Services because of problems with unpaid taxes.

So far, Republicans in the Senate seem to be echoing many of the arguments against the stimulus made by their colleagues in the House: That much of the spending goes to favored Democratic programs and won’t create jobs.

But they are also arguing that there are very few strings attached to the money and that the administration, including, presumably, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, will have a lot of unprecedented control over what happens to it.

“I’m not one who believes that Congress must always wait for the Executive Branch to lead,” said Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee during floor debate. “But with regard to this bill we are giving the Executive Branch immense latitude in the disbursement of the spending it contains. We are doing so without any official request, and without any documentation that speaks to the issue of how this spending will stimulate the economy, or what the long term implications of the spending will be.”

And apparently, at least one conservative Democrats is concerned that many of the programs in the stimulus package, including some of the education funds, aren’t really going to spur the economy and create jobs immediatly. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska told reporters from his home state on a conference call today that he is working with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, to tweak the package, possibly through an amendment to be offered later this week.

Will Republican/conservative Democratic opposition derail the bill or seriously curtail the education funding? Possibly, but my guess is that it’s not likely.

I think the debate over whether the funds will really generate job growth matters more in the context of what happens after the stimulus passes, presumably with most of the more $120 billion in education funding intact. If states, districts, and schools don’t appear to be using the money wisely there will be a lot of “I told you so’s” from the folks expressing concerns about the funds this time around. It will make Congress much more wary of boosting spending on education programs in the future.

Meanwhile, Daschle’s decision means that President Obama will have to choose another HHS Secretary. That person will be responsible for overseeing the main federal early childhood program, Head Start. When a nominee is announced, we’ll be sure to find out what Head Start and other pre-K advocates think.

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