House Democrats voted 236-15 last week for an amendment proposed by Rep. David Obey (D-WI) that took money from the president’s education reform programs, including Race to the Top, and redirected those funds to school districts to prevent teacher layoffs. The confrontation between the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress ended in a defeat for the White House and mutual recriminations all around.
A Newsweek column by John Alter called Obey "a water carrier for teachers’ unions" and "the man who gutted the president’s signature program on education." But that’s not entirely fair, since the Obey amendment leaves the Race to the Top program 90 percent funded. Obey himself has fought for education reform for 41 years, and in that time he’s often been at odds with education lobbyists.
The Obey amendment was not a clear-cut policy decision, and CAP’s education experts are debating it. Scott Lilly supports Obey’s proposal, but CAP President and CEO John Podesta and the rest of the education policy team maintain that programs such as Race to the Top have created momentum for education reform and that we risk wasting a critical opportunity to improve the system.
We feel the open debate we’ve had here at CAP is a better way to approach problems such as this one. No question in education policy has an easy answer, making it all the more critical for progressives to respect one another’s opinions and listen to one other’s ideas. Otherwise we simply can’t accomplish meaningful reform.