By Nick Anderson
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010; 8:25 PM
The Obama administration on Thursday threw its support behind a $23 billion measure intended to avert large-scale teacher layoffs, urging Congress to include the effort in a spending bill lawmakers are drafting to fund wartime costs and other urgent needs.
"We are gravely concerned that ongoing state and local budget challenges are threatening hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs for the upcoming school year," Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Duncan added: "These budget cuts would also undermine the groundbreaking reform efforts under way in states and districts all across the country."
Duncan's letter, released Thursday evening with backing from the White House, aimed to push the issue of education jobs to the fore as the Senate prepares to consider a supplemental spending bill in coming weeks to fund military operations in Afghanistan and other expenses.
With state and local budgets in dire shape following the economic downturn, Duncan urged Congress to approve the $23 billion to help schools out of their fiscal jam as well as $2 billion to fund police and firefighter positions and $1 billion for early childhood education jobs.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has proposed a $23 billion bailout for schools that would in essence extend federal stimulus spending for another year in response to reports of widespread potential public education layoffs around the country. His bill has significant Democratic support, and the House in December approved a bill that includes similar funding to save education jobs.
But congressional aides say significant hurdles remain. Republicans and some Democrats have expressed concern that Harkin's measure would add to the federal deficit.
Harkin plans to offer his bill as an amendment when the supplemental spending measure comes to the Senate floor.