Cutting food stamps for Race to the Top?
Here’s how serious the Obama administration is about its $4.3 billion Race to the Top competitive grant competition for school reform: It was, apparently, willing to cut food stamps to keep Race funding intact.
That was one of the gems that emerged in an interview with Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) published on the Fiscal Times Web site and written by Eric Pianin and Adam Graham-Silverman.
There is something peculiar -- not to mention inappropriately stubborn -- about the administration’s fierce determination to keep every Race dime that it wants. After all, the $4.35 billion originally devoted to the grant competition was not based on anything scientific, and many of the reforms meant to be taken with the money have not been proven to improve student achievement.
As many times as Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that education is the civil rights issue of our time, the fact is that Race to the Top doesn’t guarantee that every child will benefit from all this federal largesse.
In the Fiscal Times interview, Obey, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who is retiring after more than 40 years in Congress, had sharp words for the Obama administration on education.
Obey has been fighting with the administration over Race to the Top funding; he had proposed taking $800 million from education initiatives -- $500 million from Race -- to help pay for a $10 billion plan to avert layoffs among teachers and others. The administration refused, and, according to Obey, made suggestions about other places to cut.
The first recommendation coming from the administration, which was never acted on, was cutting money for food stamps. The story was that this was acceptable because the price of food is lower than it was projected to be when the money was appropriated for the stamps.
Obey found that thinking offensive: “Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.”
The fate of the jobs initiative in the Senate -- which the administration supported except for the part about the $800 million -- is unclear; it was passed in the House.
The logic in this escapes me: Yes, there is plenty of money for an unproven reform program, but no, there is not money to keep people in jobs, especially people who have to actually implement the reforms.
But I suppose we can take comfort in this: A House subcommittee has approved $800 million more to extend the competition into fiscal 2011, which begins Oct. 1.
Here are some excerpts about education from the Obey interview, and you can read it all here:
On education and the Obama administration:
“The secretary of education is whining about the fact he only got 85 percent of the money he wanted. ... So, when we needed money, we committed the cardinal sin of treating him like any other mere mortal. We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that’s a pretty damn good deal. ...
“We gave [Duncan] $4.3 billion in the stimulus package, no questions asked. He could spend it any way he wants. .... I trusted the secretary, so I gave him a hell of a lot more money than I should have.
“My point is that I have been working for school reform long before I ever heard of the secretary of education, and long before I ever heard of Obama. And I’m happy to welcome them on the reform road, but I’ll be damned if I think the only road to reform lies in the head of the Secretary of Education.
“We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration, their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. ... Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.”
On teachers unions:
“I have had a half-life war with the NEA. For three years in a row I refused to even take any contributions because they had this silly deal that every year if you want to get their endorsement, you first had to fill out their silly questionnaire and pledge like a Boy Scout that you would do A, B, C, D and E. And I said I’m not going to do that. I have been the lead pony on education funding for 15 years around here, and if NEA isn’t smart enough to figure out where the hell I’m coming from on education after that time, they don’t deserve to be in the business.
“I have been the leading proponent of funding for education for the past 15 years in this Congress at least. ... I don’t need any lectures from the secretary of education or the president of the United States in terms of my willingness to take on teachers’ organizations.”
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| July 20, 2010; 12:46 PM ET
Categories: Education Secretary Duncan, Race to the Top | Tags: arne duncan, cutting food stamps, david obey, duncan and obey, edu jobs, edu jobs bill, education and civil rights, education secretary arne duncan, edujobs bill, extending race to the top, fiscal times, race to the top, race to the top funding, y
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