Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to take up legislation Tuesday (Aug. 10) designed to prevent teacher lay-offs and other painful cuts at the state and local level. The $26.1 billion package would allow governors and other state officials to breathe easier, but it likely will not spare all teachers or plug the persistent budget gaps that have plagued states this recession.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
that he will meet with legislative leaders Wednesday to find ways to plug a $250 million gap in the state budget that marks the difference between the amount of federal aid Pennsylvania officials had hoped Congress would pass and what it now appears likely to send to President Obama.
Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate have suggested that the state could make up for the shortfall by reducing education funding, the Post-Gazette
notes. Although Rendell has not endorsed that idea, it does highlight the tough spot for state officials. Balancing state budgets often is a zero-sum game, where shortfalls in one area of the budget can have effects across state government.
In neighboring New Jersey, more than four out of every five school districts surveyed say they will start this school year with fewer teachers than last year, according to a survey that received responses from 40 percent of the state's association of school boards. School officials blamed the lower staffing levels on several factors, including $820 million of reductions of state aid included in this year's state budget, the Newark Star-Ledger
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, may not even take the federal money that the House is voting on, because of conditions that may be placed on the new funds, the newspaper notes in a separate story
. "It would be prudent in not committing entirely to the idea of taking this money unless we know ... what the impact is and the potential unintended consequences," a Christie spokesman explained.
In Washington, meanwhile, debate over the extra spending has taken a partisan tenor. The measure "defines the difference between the two parties," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to the McClatchey-Tribune News Service
Republicans say the measure, which extends several provisions of last year's stimulus bill, is Democrats' attempt to mollify teacher unions. "The American people don't want more stimulus spending," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, according to the news service, "especially in the form of a payoff to union bosses and liberal special interests."