WASHINGTON — The Senate's leading Democrat on education issues proposed a $23 billion bailout Wednesday to help public schools across the country avert widespread layoffs, a sequel to the economic stimulus law that has propped up teetering state budgets for the past year.
In an appropriations hearing on Capitol Hill, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, noted that layoffs of teachers and other school personnel could exceed 100,000 before the next school year starts.
"We must act soon," he said. "This is not something we can fix in August." Harkin is chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on education.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan seconded Harkin's assessment. He estimated that schools face layoffs in the range of 100,000 to 300,000.
"It is brutal out there, really scary," Duncan told reporters after addressing the lawmakers. "What we're trying to avert is an education catastrophe."
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said after the hearing that he was considering Harkin's proposal. "We cannot get ahead by underfunding education," he said.
The economic stimulus law enacted in 2009 provided nearly $100 billion for education, much of it to help states avoid layoffs.