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Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA)

April 14, 2010

Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA)

At the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Hearing to Examine the Department of Education Budget and the Education Jobs Crisis

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Mr. Duncan, welcome back to the subcommittee.  You and I have had many occasions to talk recently, both here in Washington and in Iowa, about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  As you know, I am in the process of holding several reauthorization hearings in the HELP Committee, which I also chair, and I share your commitment to completing that work this year.

“But today we’re here to talk specifically about funding.  When it comes to resources, this is a time of both great promise and great peril.  While the books on fiscal year 2010 won’t be closed for another six months, we can already safely predict that the Federal government will spend far more money on education this year than in any other year in history.  Between the regular 2010 appropriations bill and last year’s Recovery Act, the Education Department will provide over $100 billion to States, districts and higher education programs across the country this fiscal year.

“The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund in particular has been one of the great success stories of the Recovery Act.  That funding is currently supporting more than 300,000 education jobs across the country, and certainly helped mitigate the effects of the recession.

“Last month, we also celebrated the passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act.   This landmark legislation eliminated wasteful corporate subsidies in the federal student loan program and strengthened the Pell Grant program.  

“The President’s proposed education budget for Fiscal Year 2011 also holds promise.  As we all know, the President’s budget holds the line on non-security-related spending overall in Fiscal Year 2011.  But he pledged to use a scalpel, not an ax, to achieve that freeze, and the Department of Education is one of the Federal agencies that would receive an increase – 7.5 percent more than in Fiscal Year 2010.  We’ll hear more details about that request from Secretary Duncan in a few minutes.

“Despite these positive developments for Federal education funding, there are also many danger signs.  That’s because the bottom has fallen out for State and local funding in many communities across the country, just as funding from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund begins to wind down.  Every day brings more reports about a massive wave of layoffs that could soon strike school districts and institutions of higher education.  Based on estimates we’re seeing so far, the number of pink slips for educators could easily top 100,000 this fall.

“Job cuts of this magnitude would of course have a devastating impact on families across the country and could stall the Nation’s economic recovery.  But they would also take a terrible toll on our educational system.

“Large numbers of layoffs mean bigger class sizes, fewer program offerings, and less time for students to learn in school.  It’s hard to see how you get the kind of educational reform that Secretary Duncan and the Senators on this subcommittee want to achieve if schools are cutting their instructional time.

“That’s why, later today, I will introduce the Keep Our Educators Working Act.  This bill will create a $23 billion “Education Jobs Fund” that will provide money to every State for the specific purpose of hiring or retaining school employees – teachers, principals, librarians, counselors, custodians, and so on.

“It won’t keep every educator on the job this fall, but it will go a long way to preventing the worst of the layoffs.

“Another danger on the horizon is the Pell shortfall.  During tough economic times, more students, and more financially needy students, seek a higher education.   That can lead to a temporary funding shortfall in the Pell program.  One of the relatively unheralded accomplishments of the student reconciliation bill was the inclusion of significant funding to address that shortfall.  I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for working so hard with me to provide those funds.  But we’re still short about $5.7 billion.  If we don’t find a way to make up the difference, every program in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill – and even programs in other Federal agencies as well – could suffer.  Mr. Secretary, I hope we can continue to work together to fight for the rest of that Pell funding in an upcoming spending vehicle.

“We’ll talk more about these issues soon.  But first, I turn to Senator Cochran for any opening remarks he would like to offer.”