Never mind the House GOP drama — pay attention to what they’re proposing, like cutting teachers

October 4, 2023 6:00 am
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican, speaks at a press conference after he was elected as whip, the No. 3 leadership position, by the House GOP, on Nov. 15, 2022, at the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom.

The drama this week over U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy losing his speakership is another instance when we gawk at the mosh pit instead of listening to the lyrics. 

I’ll grant that the spectacle of a dysfunctional political party running the U.S. House is a sight to behold, but we ought to pay attention to what they are actually proposing, because it’s quite revealing. 

A scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, the D.C. right-leaning think tank, called last week’s brush with disaster the “Seinfeld shutdown,” because like Larry David’s vision of his sitcom, it was about nothing. 

The far-right Republicans who are driving us into these governing crises, the argument goes, are having more of a temper tantrum than anything. As the Washington Post put it: 

Typically, funding showdowns in divided government between Congress and the White House have featured pitched battles over specific policies, such as Trump’s border wall or Obamacare. But budget experts and historians say the current impasse stands out for its lack of a clear policy disagreement. 

But this ignores the House GOP’s cruel budget proposals to appease their clown car subcaucus. 

The Pentagon and programs like Medicare and Social Security — that the GOP’s aging electorate rely on — go untouched, while equally important domestic programs take the hit. 

As the Post reported, a quarter of all the House GOP’s proposed spending cuts come from a single program, Title 1 education grants, which is the federal government’s largest education program. It’s targeted at schools where more than 40% of children are from lower income families. 

Republicans would cut the program by 80%. 

Smart: After all, who are the poor kids gonna complain to?

Because we have a Democratic president and Senate, this proposal will never become law, but we should take it seriously as a statement of Republican principle. 

By leaving Social Security, Medicare and the Pentagon untouched, the principle here can’t be for small government. So what is the principle, then? So far as I can tell, it’s cruelty toward people they don’t like, even when they reside in GOP members’ own districts. 

Consider U.S. House Majority Whip Tom Emmer — and potential future speaker of the House — of the 6th District. St. Cloud Public Schools receives $5 million in Title 1 funds, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. How many teachers do you suppose that is?

The St. Cloud School District uses nearly all that money for instructional positions, according to Amy Skaalerud, the executive director of the district’s finance and business services. She told me in an email that an 80% reduction would result in the district having to cut about 60 teachers, using an average starting teacher salary with benefits of $65,000.

In U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber’s 8th District, Duluth Public Schools receives $2.4 million in Title 1 funds, while Rock Ridge Public Schools on the Iron Range gets $517,000.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach represents Moorhead in the 7th District, and they’d lose most of $1.7 million. Alexandria receives $517,000. 

U.S. Rep. Brad Finstad represents the 1st District, where Rochester receives some $2.8 million. The Mankato School District takes in $1.5 million. 

Democrats say the cuts would cost 224,000 teaching jobs nationwide, affecting some 26 million students. 

The federal government provides a pittance of overall education funding, which is too bad because we could take pressure off regressive state and local taxes if the feds would fund schools. 

Be that as it may, we’ll take whatever Title 1 funds we can. It’s not just the money that’s important, however. It’s a policy lever on educational equity and civil rights, while giving us reams of data to improve our approach.  

I guess we should be pleased that none of Minnesota’s Republican representatives are in the chaos caucus. I’m referring to the House Republicans — perhaps a dozen or two — whose goal is to burn it all down. They are willing to see key federal workers go without pay and let nearly 7 million children and moms go hungry without WIC benefits, among other important federal programs imperiled over shutdown theater. 

So, sure, Emmer, Stauber, Fischbach and Finstad have achieved the very low bar of not being Rep. Matt Gaetz. 

Our very mainstream Minnesota Republicans are not interested in bedlam. They just want to fire a bunch of teachers.

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children