National Leaders Speak Up About Education Crisis

By Will Potter

Georgia teacher Anise Anderson is being laid off because of budget cuts and she knows her students will suffer. She’s speaking up today.

Kentucky teacher Catie Poff is being laid off because of budget cuts and she too knows her students will suffer. She’s speaking up today.

They join tens of thousands of public education supporters around the country today participating in the launch of the National Education Association’s Speak Up for Education & Kids, a national campaign to mobilize educators and others concerned about the budget emergency facing public education. At issue is the Education Jobs Fund, legislation that would provide $23 billion in emergency funding for teaching and support professional jobs.

At a press conference this morning on Capitol Hill, Anderson and Poff joined NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Reps. Dave Obey (D-Wis.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who called on all members of Congress to prevent the estimated 300,000 teacher layoffs across the country.  (View the NEA press conference video.)

“It’s incomprehensible that Wall Street tycoons get a bailout, while we force our children to bear the brunt of the nation’s economic woes,” said Van Roekel.  “Enough is enough. The time to speak up for education and kids is now.”

Rep. Obey, who is chair of the House Appropriations Committee, notes that the Recovery Act last year saved over 300,000 education jobs. “But because states have not yet recovered, and local economies are just beginning the recovery process, there will be a shortage of the financial resources necessary to keep teachers, firemen and policemen on the job for another year while state budgets catch up.” He added, “On that score, we have two choices—we can sit, frozen in our own indifference, as President Roosevelt once said, or we can take action to save those jobs.  That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Teachers who recently received layoff notices shared their personal stories about the education cuts. Poff, a reading specialist at Kingston Elementary School in Richmond, Ky., provides individualized attention to students struggling with their reading so they can make up lost ground.

“The idea of losing my job is upsetting, especially because I know I will never find a job as rewarding as this one or that I love as much,” said Poff.  “But I am just as upset for my students as I am for myself.  My kids—and kids everywhere—deserve every opportunity to succeed. We do them a disservice by denying them access to accomplished teachers who are able to work with them individually.”

Secretary Duncan has testified before Congress millions of public school children will be hurt by the layoffs, which will come in the form of ballooning class sizes and a gutted academic programs.

School budgets across the country have already been cut to the bone, forcing massive layoffs of teachers and education support professionals. Some districts are moving to four-day school weeks, cutting critical services and programs for kids, or even closing schools. These layoffs and cuts are coming at the same time that schools are facing demands for better academic outcomes.

View the new 30-second television ad for the Speak Up for Education & Kids campaign, titled “Listen,” in which students asks viewers, “If I were a Wall Street banker or a company CEO, would Congress listen to me?”

All photos © 2010 Photo by Patrick G. Ryan/NEA.  Courtesy of the National Education Association.  All Rights Reserved.