Key U.S. Senator Proposes Bill to Bolster States’ Education Budgets

The chairman of the U.S. Senate’s education committee introduced a bill on Wednesday that would pump $23-billion into state budgets for school districts and colleges just as money from the federal stimulus law begins to run out.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat of Iowa, would give states money to fill budget gaps and avoid layoffs once money from the stimulus measure’s State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which gave states $39.6-billion for education, is spent.

The new bill would match the amount allocated for education jobs in HR 2847, jobs legislation that was enacted into law last month.

"We have a real cliff problem right now," Mr. Harkin said on Wednesday at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on education, referring to the plight states will face when stimulus money for education is gone, after 2012. "This is a real crisis that we have."

The education-jobs bill is classified as an "emergency bill," meaning that pay-as-you-go rules, which typically require federal spending to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, do not apply. Providing money for education is worth incurring extra debt, Mr. Harkin argued.

"How can you argue, on the one hand, that it’s all right for a kid to borrow to go to college, but it’s not all right to borrow to make sure there is a college to go to?" he said.

If the bill is enacted, the funds would be made available to states immediately and distributed by governors based on the anticipated size of state cuts to both elementary and secondary education and higher education.

At the hearing, Marc S. Herzog, chancellor of Connecticut’s community-college system, praised the bill, saying that now is a "precarious time for community colleges" as enrollments increase and state budgets shrink.

"There is no alternative to some form of federal assistance," Mr. Herzog said.


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