Three Iowa Democrats gathered today to tout a bill pending in the U.S. House that could “save” the jobs of up to 1,800 public school teachers. The U.S. Senate approved the $26 billion spending package last week and Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, was a key backer of the bill.

“With this legislation we are setting tough priorities in a very difficult budget environment,” Harkin says. “What we’re saying is that it’s our priority to keep the kids in school and keep the teachers teaching to prevent the derailment of important reform efforts that we’re now about in our schools.”

The bill is scheduled for a vote in the U.S. House, perhaps as early as Tuesday. Harkin says Iowa stands to receive an extra $96-million to retain teachers who’d otherwise get lay-off notices.

“To state the obvious, we can’t continue to improve our Iowa public schools if we’re laying off teachers, raising class sizes, slashing programs and cutting instructional time,” Harkin says. Brandon Olive, an elementary school music teacher from Des Moines, was laid off last year, but has been called back.

“Last year was pretty stressful not only for me but the students as well, knowing that they might not get music all next year — and luckily they do and so I’m just happy,” Olive says. “I’m happy to be back.” Olive was invited to speak at a statehouse news conference today that featured Harkin, Governor Chet Culver and Congressman Leonard Boswell — all three of whom are Democrats.

Republicans accuse Democrats of advancing the bill at the bidding of powerful teachers’ unions.