By Samantha Kappalman and Cynthia McCabe
Calling it the right thing for the country, the economy and the nation’s children, Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Wednesday threw his support behind the National Education Association’s effort to get through Congress emergency legislation that will help save the jobs of 125,000 educators now facing layoffs.
NEA is urging immediate passage of the Keep Our Educators Working Act, introduced today by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Education Committee. The act would provide $23 billion to extend already successful State Fiscal Stabilization aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“We are gravely concerned that the kind of state and local budget threats our schools face today will put our hard-earned reforms at risk,” said Duncan, making an impromptu change to his planned remarks for Harkin’s committee. “None of this is good for children.”
At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Iowa State Education Association President Chris Bern testified that the Recovery Act was critically important to Iowa, funding 6,715 education jobs — teachers, librarians, nurses, and support workers — across the state. Nearly 5,000 of those jobs were funded through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.
“The Senate needs to act quickly on an education jobs package,” testified Bern. “This will go a very long way to help avert the crisis that is right in front of us.”
As Duncan pointed out in his testimonty, in Iowa more than 750 teachers recently received layoff notices. Full-day kindergarten programs are being cut down to half days.
Harkin agreed that the situation is urgent and the impact of passed legislation profound. “This bill will prevent layoffs, create jobs and keep our kids learning all while growing our economy,” he said.
Prospects are bleak nationwide for teachers—those who are getting layoff notices as well as those who are being asked to do much more with much less. Read about what educators are saying about crowded classrooms and dwindling resources. Their stories are being shared through NEA’s activism Web site EducationVotes.
With three months left in “pink slip” season, the National Education Association is projecting at least 125,000 educator layoffs—with that number likely to increase. State and local budgets are at critical levels, more cuts are looming, and the prospect of larger class sizes, less individual attention and more crowded school buses has parents concerned.
“When educators lose their jobs, our children lose too,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. (Read Van Roekel’s full remarks at NEA’s Press Center.) “The students who were in our schools yesterday will be there again tomorrow. And they will still need individual attention and resources to help them achieve. They will still need counselors, nurses, reading specialists and others to help them succeed. These cuts shortchange our kids, and frankly, they deserve more than that.”
Millions of public school children will be affected by the projected layoffs. School budgets across the country have already been cut to the bone, with some districts moving to four-day school weeks, cutting programs or even closing schools. These layoffs and cuts are coming at the same time that schools are facing demands for better academic outcomes.
Some districts are choosing to cut programs rather than lay off staff; some districts have no choice but to cut both programs and staff. Either way, those actions are a losing proposition for millions of public school students.
“This would save or fund hundreds of thousands of education jobs, and it would be a tremendous help to states in dire financial circumstances,” said Van Roekel. “But more importantly, it ensures that millions of America’s students will not be bearing the brunt of the nation’s economic woes.”
Photo by Patrick Ryan