White House promises, then retracts, 400,000 teachers

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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When is 400,000 not 400,000?

When the president is on the campaign-trail, of course.

The 400,000 number is included in a Tuesday White House report titled “Teacher Jobs at Risk.” It was released a few hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to use a campaign trail speech in Texas to demand GOP support for his $447 billion “American Jobs Act” stimulus-bill.

“The president’s plan will more than offset projected layoffs, providing support for nearly 400,000 education jobs — enough for states to avoid harmful layoffs and rehire tens of thousands of teachers who lost their jobs over the past three years,” said the report.

That money will support 39,000 teachers in Texas, 37,000 in California and 14,000 in Ohio, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during a Tuesday press conference arranged to tout the report.

The White House earlier had earlier released a portion of the president’s speech, which was aimed at House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

“Mr. Cantor should come down to Dallas, look [teacher] Kim Russell in the eye, and tell her why she doesn’t deserve to get a paycheck again.  Come tell her students why they don’t deserve to have their teacher back,” says the speech, which is to be delivered Tuesday afternoon in Mesquite, Texas.

But administration officials quickly backtracked on the 400,000 number once they were quizzed by reporters during the press conference.

The money would only support 400,000 teachers for one year, leaving state and local government to pick up the tab every subsequent year, admitted Katharine Abraham, a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

The bill, if approved by Congress, would allow the money to be spent over two years, so it could support 200,000 employees over those two years, said Abraham, who has taken leave from her teaching job at the University of Maryland

Also, state and local governments won’t be firing 200,000 or 400,000 teaching jobs if they don’t get the money, she explained. Instead, the money is intended to save up 280,000 teachers that might be laid off.

The money, she added, is for “teacher jobs that could be at risk in the coming year,” because of budget problems in local and state government.

“We’re trying to prevent those additional [280,000 possible] layoffs and bring back some of the educators who have lost their jobs over the last few years,” Duncan said.

Because of budget problems, “we’ve lost 300,000 local education jobs over the last three years,” Abraham declared.

When asked to explain how state and local government could afford to keep the 200,000, 280,000, 300,000 or 400,000 teachers that would be temporarily funded by the stimulus act, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest predicted “the economy will bounce back and make things easier down the road … we’re trying to cushion the blow now.”

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