Education Jobs Fund Passes Key Hurdle in House

By  Cynthia McCabe

From Wisconsin to Washington, political leaders this week called on the U.S. House and Senate to act now and authorize funding that will save hundreds of thousands of educators jobs. Failure to do so, President Obama and governors from across the country said, would be to risk the fragile economic recovery they’re starting to see in their states.

“I’ve been fighting for additional steps to speed up this recovery and keep our economy growing,” Obama said during a stop in Racine, Wis. “We want relief for struggling states so they don’t have to lay off thousands of teachers and cops and firefighters.”

Legislation containing $10 billion for education jobs passed a key hurdle on the U.S. House floor Thursday night, with members voting 215-210 to advance legislation to a vote. (Head to EducationVotes for information about how supporters can urge Congress to vote ‘yes’ on the legislation. View the proceedings live on C-SPAN.)

Obama’s remarks, and those of a group of influential governors at a press conference a few hours later in Washington, were timed to get the Senate to act on extensions for federal Medicaid matching money to the states (“FMAP”) and to encourage the House to act on the Education Jobs Fund now before them as part of the emergency supplemental legislation.

“Children born in a recession have just as much right to a quality education as those born in prosperous times,” said Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson, who could lose more than 3,600 teachers in his state without federal funding. “What that means in the real world is (rising) class sizes,” he said.

Nationwide an estimated 150,000 NEA-member teachers and education support professionals face layoffs before the upcoming school year. (Learn more about teacher layoffs from those affected at EducationVotes.) In some states this will mean cutting back the kindergarten day, eliminating programs, and class sizes of up to 42 students.

The six governors in attendance and four others appearing via teleconference spoke about the devastating impact on their state’s children if education budgets have to be slashed to handle the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars if FMAP isn’t funded, or if the $10 billion at stake for the Education Jobs Fund isn’t realized by Congress.

It was a bipartisan plea, with Republican governors Arnold Schwarzenneger of California and Jodi Rell of Connecticut joining their Democratic counterparts. (Read about previous gubernatorial calls for education funding.)

It’s not just the nation’s youngest students. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. pointed out that higher education class sizes will mushroom, too, as cash-strapped state university systems are forced to lay off faculty.

On an even wider scale, inaction by Congress threatens economic recovery, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said. Congress needs to “push this recovery to the next level rather than slowing it down or reversing it,” O’Malley said.