If parents think their children’s classrooms are already too crowded and their teachers are stretched too thin, they’re going to be horrified by what looms next school year when hundreds of thousands of educators will be laid off if the U.S. Senate fails to pass jobs relief soon.
Teachers and education support professionals around the country are already receiving pink slips for the next school year — just five months away — as state legislatures are preparing to pass 2011 budget plans that are heavy with layoffs and hiring freezes to close budget deficits. Nationwide, the National Education Association estimates that 120,000 education jobs will be cut without Congressional aid. That number includes 115,000 classroom teachers and 5,000 education support professionals, based on tallies from the Association’s state affiliates.
Bonnie Keller, a former full-time science teacher, now must substitute teach at a school four hours from her home in Christiansburg, Va., because of a local lockdown on hiring. The excessive commute forces her away from her infant daughter for much of the week.
“There is only one possible opening local to me for next year, and at this point they are not likely to fill it — they’ll just increase the students per class in the other sections of this course, and not replace the one teacher retiring,” says Keller, whose husband is also a teacher. “So we face the prospects of either me being unemployed again next year and losing our current house, or having a whole year of living apart as a family, which is unbearable for a mom and young child.”
The U.S. House in December passed a jobs package that includes $23 billion to stave off educator layoffs that will roll out across the country like a tsunami in upcoming months. But hundreds of thousands of educator jobs still hang in the balance unless the Senate does its part and passes the Education Jobs Fund with at least the $23 billion in relief. The Fund’s ability to save and create scores of education jobs – from pre-K to post-secondary professionals – is a key component of stimulating the economy and furthering economic recovery.
Since late 2007, the recession has devastated state finances, with an $87 billion drop tax revenue due to lost jobs, reduced wages and lowered economic activity, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The impact on education funding has been particularly corrosive.
Take North Carolina, where a proposed state budget slashes $409 million from school funding, including 4,300 education jobs. Or in Illinois, where 17,000 teachers currently face layoffs. California’s governor is threatening to cut $2.5 billion from schools and 29,000 pink slips were sent to educators and support professionals, notifying them of potential layoff. More than 16,000 have already lost their jobs.
After announcing a new round of layoffs Tuesday, California’s state schools chief Jack O’Connell released a statement that summed up the implications of educator layoffs in his state: “This is leading to fewer beginning teachers staying in the profession and fewer candidates entering teacher preparation programs. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of educators will retire within the next decade. All these factors are contributing to a significant future teacher shortage.”
The grim prospects facing teachers like Keller are echoed in the stories of educators across the country, both from those getting layoff notices and those left to pick up the pieces in crowded classrooms and dwindling resources. Here are just a few of their stories, being shared through NEA’s activism website EducationVotes:
- Theresa Zeigler, Charlotte, N.C. : Last year 300 teachers and teacher assistants were laid off. My class size is at 26. I am expected to have the same interaction, same detailed records and same level of work done as when I had a full-time assistant, 20 students and materials that would meet the needs of the students I had. On top of that, (lawmakers are saying) ‘Let’s get rid of teachers.’ Now stack a classroom with 30 to 40 students, no new materials and if students do not show adequate progress the teacher will lose his or her job. This type of logic is like telling a quarterback, ‘We expect you to have the same record as last year! Except, due to some funding cuts you won’t have a front line. Also, we had to let the halfbacks and wide receivers go. Now go out there and give it all you got. America is counting on you!’
- Dan Bernard, Schenectady, N.Y.: Since 2007, there have been extremely few teaching positions available. I have a 3.89 average at the Master’s level and have become a substitute teacher for next to no money, trying to make a name for myself in the futile hope of getting hired somewhere. At schools where I sub, I have been told by principals that they would hire me if there were any money for them to do so. It is a waste of all my training and experience as a teacher. But I also have a family to feed and support. And I cannot wait for someone in Washington to realize that cutting education is no way to balance a budget. That education needs to be fully funded, not scaled back to save a buck. And the children? When teachers are laid off, it is the children who really lose. One classroom with 40 children is not the same thing as two classrooms with 20 children each. Study after study have shown that children cannot learn in large settings like that. But when teachers are cut, this is the inevitable result for the children. As a teacher, I cannot be there for the children because the funding isn’t there to hire me. It is easy to solve the problem. Just fund the schools appropriately. Keep classroom sizes small. Keep qualified teachers working.
- Monica Williams, Lugoff, S.C.: I have been teaching for 15 years. I have never seen such rough times. Four school personnel have been moved from our school. I have $116 dollars taken out of my check due to furlough days. I need that money to support myself and my three-year-old daughter. I do the best to keep myself encouraged and my co-workers, but it quite difficult. South Carolina continues to make cuts instead of increasing the cigarette tax or property taxes. We have been told our class sizes will increase next year, we may have more furlough days, and we will have a 1995 budget. Please know teachers cannot function with a 1995 budget, with 30 students in a classroom and money continuously taken out of checks.
- Jennifer Owen, Knoxville, Tenn.: Before the cut, each music teacher had 350 students and saw them once every three school days. Now one teacher sees all 700 students and the children only have music class one time every six school days. The teacher is still required to prepare grade reports for classwork and behavior for all 700 students four times per year, though students may only have music class six times between reports. However, the largest impact is not on the teacher, but on the students, who have had their music curriculum cut in half. With a school population that has more than 85 percent of its students receiving free and reduced lunch, music lessons outside of the school day are not an alternative. Rather than a free and equal education, more and more public school children are finding that and education which includes learning that truly touches them and sparks their creativity (arts education) is only available to the wealthy.
Hope could be on the way, if U.S. lawmakers heed the calls from their constituents — sent through NEA’s Legislative Action Center – to save education jobs and protect student achievement opportunities. Next week, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) plans to take up education jobs legislation. He’s scheduled hearings of his Appropriations Committee starting Wednesday and will hear from state education officials about the crisis facing their teachers, support professionals and students.
Photo: California Teachers Association