Friday, July 02, 2010

Education bailout added to House war bill

The Democrats apparently have a bottomless pit of money. No wonder they won't set a budget

The U.S. House approved a war-funding measure that includes $10 billion in aid to state governments to prevent thousands of teacher layoffs, after a veto threat from the White House.

Lawmakers voted 239-182 to back a plan the Obama administration threatened to veto yesterday because the state aid would be financed in part by cutting $800 million from one of the administration’s signature education initiatives. Earlier, the legislation cleared a procedural hurdle with a 215- 210 majority.

The vote sends the $80 billion package to the Senate, where Republicans have signaled they will fight to delete unrelated items added to a bill primarily designed to fund President Barack Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

The disputes not only threaten an election-year spending fight among Democrats, they also promise to delay getting the long-stalled measure to Obama’s desk until later this month.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged lawmakers earlier this month to pass the bill before leaving for their weeklong Fourth of July recess, saying the Pentagon would otherwise be forced to do “stupid things” such as taking money out of other programs to ensure adequate war funding. He said the agency may have to furlough civilian employees if the money isn’t approved by mid- August.

The House bill includes $37 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $13 billion for additional benefits to people exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, among other programs.

Separately, lawmakers failed to pass legislation extending unemployment assistance, which means 2 million Americans could see their aid interrupted by mid-July, according to the Labor Department. The House yesterday approved a bill extending the assistance, sending it to the Senate for consideration after lawmakers return to Washington on July 12.

Senate Bill

House Democrats considered passing, without change, a Senate-approved draft of the war bill omitting the teacher funding in order to get the money to the Pentagon this week. Democratic leaders opted instead to add the education funding, which led to the financing dispute with the White House.

“The administration is more than willing to work with the Congress to pursue fiscally responsible ways to finance education jobs,” a White House statement said. “It would be short-sighted to weaken funding for these reforms just as they begin to show promise.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, the lead sponsor of the legislation, said tough choices were needed to avoid adding to the deficit. “I didn’t come here to be Arne Duncan’s congressman,” said Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, referring to the secretary of Education. “Who do people think put the money into these programs in the first place? I did,” Obey said. “Welcome to Washington and welcome to hard choices.”

Additional Programs

Democrats also added $5 billion for Pell college tuition grants, $142 million in aid to fisherman and others affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and $701 million for border security. Those costs would be partially defrayed by provisions clamping down on so-called pay-to-delay payments made by brand- name pharmaceutical companies to generic-drug makers to delay lower-priced generic drugs from entering the market.

Senator Thad Cochran, the ranking Republican on the appropriations committee, said his colleagues won’t accept the House changes. Reconciling the competing drafts will delay getting a bill to Obama until “at least” late July, he said. Representative James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the House isn’t “a rubber stamp for whatever the Senate does -- we have opinions too.”


Muslim pupils taken out of music lessons in British schools 'because Islam forbids playing an instrument'

Muslim pupils are being withdrawn from music lessons because some families believe learning an instrument is anti-Islamic. The move comes despite the subject being a compulsory part of the national curriculum.

While parents have legal rights to withdraw children from religious and sex education classes, no automatic right exists to pull them out of lessons such as music.

One education expert said up to half of Muslim pupils were withdrawn from music lessons during Ramadan. And The Muslim Council of Britain said music lessons were likely to be unacceptable to around ten per cent of the Muslim population in Britain.

However, in certain branches of Islam - such as Sufism, which is dominant in Pakistan and India - devotional music and singing is actually central to the religion.

A BBC investigation found that in one London primary school, 20 pupils were removed from rehearsals for a Christmas musical and one five-year-old girl remains permanently withdrawn from mainstream music classes.

Some Muslims believe that playing musical instruments and singing is forbidden according to Islam. At Herbert Morrison Primary in Lambeth, 29 per cent of children come from mainly Somalian Muslim families. Headmistress Eileen Ross said some parents 'don't want children to play musical instruments and they don't have music in their homes'.

One girl remains permanently withdrawn from the school's music curriculum, which consists of a government-backed project to learn instruments such as the violin. 'There's been about 18 or 22 children withdrawn from certain sessions, out of music class, but at the moment I just have one child who is withdrawn continually from the music curriculum,' Mrs Ross told the BBC. 'It's not part of their belief, they feel it detracts from their faith.' Ofsted and education experts raised concerns over the findings.

The Open University's Dr Diana Harris, an expert on music education and Muslims, said she had visited schools where half of the pupils were withdrawn from music lessons by their parents during Ramadan.

'Most of them really didn't know why they were withdrawing their children,' she told the BBC. 'The majority of them were doing it because they had just learned that it wasn't acceptable and one of the sources giving out that feeling was the Imams.'

A spokesman for Ofsted said: 'Music is an important part of any child or young person's education. Any examples of pupils being treated unequally would be a matter of significant concern.'


A third of British graduates in low-skills jobs or on the dole six months after leaving university

One in three graduates is on the dole or working in stopgap jobs such as stacking shelves or pouring pints [of beer].

The impact of the recession on graduate recruitment was laid bare in official figures showing a rise in unemployment and a reliance on jobs unlikely to justify the expense of studying. Nearly 20,000 of last year’s graduates – one in ten – were unemployed six months after leaving university – up from eight per cent in 2008.

A further 50,000 failed to land graduate-level posts and resorted to roles for which they are likely to be over-qualified, working as secretaries, waiters, bar staff and factory employees. In total, 34 per cent jobless or in non-graduate roles. Some were taking part-time jobs to help pay for further degrees.

Only 40 per cent managed to land professional or managerial jobs, with the remainder studying a higher degree full-time, working abroad or describing themselves as ‘unavailable for work’, possibly because of gap years.

The figures emerged after two days of bleak reports on the graduate job market. Yesterday experts predicted graduate unemployment could reach a quarter – a record level – amid unprecedented competition for work and looming cuts in the public sector, which employs significant numbers of graduates.

‘The impact of the proposed cuts could be sufficient to have a profound effect on the labour market for new graduates,’ said Charlie Ball, of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit. ‘It is possible that the next four years could be the toughest for new graduates ever.’

The latest study, issued by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, shows how last year’s graduates fared six months after leaving university. Out of 205,300 graduates who gave data, 8,400 were in ‘elementary’ occupations' – for example hospital porters and roadsweepers. A further 610 got jobs as machine operatives while 18,000 work in sales or customer services. And 8,100 were in ‘personal services’ including hairdressing while 13,720 were in administrative or secretarial roles.

Around 1,000 others were in skilled trades such as plumbing. Universities Minister David Willetts said: ‘Employers are continuing to recruit graduates in large numbers even though these are students who graduated at the height of the recession.

‘The job market does remain competitive for new graduates in these difficult economic times, as it does for everyone. However, a degree remains a good investment in the long-term.’


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