WASHINGTON - House Democrats have challenged President Barack Obama's education agenda, approving a bill that would slice funding from his flagship school reform program despite a White House veto threat.
The war-funding bill the House approved Thursday included a provision the Obama administration strenuously opposed: a proposed $500-million cut to the president's $4.35-billion Race to the Top reform contest.
Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the cut is necessary to free up money for a new $10-billion fund to help save more than 100,000 education jobs as states and local governments face major budget challenges.
The jobs fund and about $5 billion for Pell grants for college students were included in the war spending bill on a 239-182 vote that largely followed party lines. That vote, and another key procedural vote of 215-210, sent the bill to the Senate, where further negotiations are expected.
The administration supports the $15 billion in education spending but is resisting the cuts in the school reform program that Obey proposed to help pay for it.
The lure of winning a share of Race to the Top funds has led states across the country to enact laws and regulations meant to spur innovation in schools. Some have eased limits on charter schools. Others have taken steps toward teacher performance pay. The contest was created through unusually broad spending authority Congress granted Obama in the 2009 stimulus law.
Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have touted Race to the Top as a groundbreaking initiative to shake up low-performing schools. Tennessee won $500 million and Delaware $100 million in March in the contest's first round. Now more than 30 states are vying for a share of $3.4 billion in reform aid. Race to the Top intends $350 million to help states design achievement tests that align with new academic standards.
The bill heads to the Senate, where Obama hopes to persuade lawmakers to preserve Race to the Top and $300 million in education reform funding in danger.