JEFFERSON CITY — A top Missouri education official is promoting federal legislation that offers additional money for teachers and could save the jobs of about 3,200 educators in the state.
Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said she supports legislation being considered by Congress that would offer $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs. The bill also would provide $5 billion for Pell grants to low-income college students and $700 million to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
To help pay for the teacher grants, federal lawmakers have proposed cutting $500 million from the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top grant program. But the move has prompted veto threats from the White House.
Missouri education officials believe the additional money for teacher salaries would be a boost for the state's 523 school districts, the Jefferson City News Tribune reported Saturday.
"Virtually every school in the state of Missouri could benefit from this assistance," Nicastro said.
Nicastro said she has never before seen schools face the severity of budget challenges that are currently before them. She said many schools are eliminating full-day kindergarten and summer school classes.
The cuts being made to Missouri's budget have slashed transportation funding for schools and have kept flat the amount of basic assistance that goes to schools — even though the state's funding formula called for a more than $100 million increase.
Speaking on a conference call with Nicastro, federal officials said they were trying to get schools more help to save teachers' jobs.
But U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and White House aide Melody Barnes said they would oppose trimming the Race to the Top program. The program allows school districts to compete for federal grants by promising changes, such as promoting charter schools and eliminating teacher tenure.
"We've seen more change, more reform and more innovation across the country in the past year than we've see in the last decade," Duncan said.
Barnes, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said she would advise President Barack Obama to veto legislation that cuts Race to the Top.
Tennessee and Delaware were awarded $600 million in the first round of Race to the Top. Thirty-five states have submitted applications seeking a slice of the $3.4 billion that remains.
Federal officials said 10 to 15 states could win grants. The finalists are expected to be announced in September.