Senate Votes to Save 161,000 Educators' Jobs

By Cynthia McCabe, Miguel Gonzalez and Collin Berglund

The U.S. Senate today approved much-needed funding that will save an estimated 161,000 educator jobs nationwide.

By the hundreds of thousands, NEA members spent the past five months contacting Congress, tallying nearly 400,000 calls and emails in the days leading up to the crucial vote. Joining them were scores of parents, students, business leaders, state and local politicians all concerned about the myriad aftershocks that would follow such severe cuts to public schools.

“This is not about Democrats and Republicans,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who brought the legislation to the floor.  “It’s about teachers.”

The measure passed the Senate shortly after noon by a vote of 61-39. Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine crossed party lines to vote for the measure.

It now heads back to the House — which passed a similar measure in July — for a final vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday issued a historic call for the House to return early from its August recess to take that final vote and speed the funding to public schools. In some states school began this week and most return before Labor Day.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel applauded senators for putting the nation’s public school children ahead of politics.

“We are now a step closer to making sure children do not bear the brunt of our nation’s economic woes,” Van Roekel said. “The education jobs fund will keep tens of thousands of educators in schools and classrooms and off of unemployment lines. Most importantly, however, the much-needed funds will keep class sizes from ballooning and prevent even more harmful cuts to education programs for students.”

Van Roekel commended Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) for bringing the education jobs legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to the floor. Action moves next to the U.S. House, which passed its version of the bill in July. Legislative procedure requires final House approval before the bill moves to President Obama for his signature.

At a press conference Thursday, Reid stood surrounded by his colleagues who championed the bill and NEA member educators.

“I think it’s a wonderful step in the right direction,” Paul Guerin, a member of the Maryland State Education Association said. “Today is a great day for teachers; this is something we had to do to avoid layoffs.”

At the press conference, Harkin thanked the educators standing behind him and those across the country for the countless phone calls and letters received by Senate offices in the weeks leading up to the jobs bill, keeping it on track.

Throughout the campaign, the pressure that NEA members and supporters applied to the Senate and House was crucial to the bill coming to fruition. (Read much more at EducationVotes about how NEA members across the country were a driving force for the legislation passing.)

NEA members from across the country shared their stories about how their layoffs would hurt students. They flew to Washington to lobby their members of Congress. They took to local radio and television airwaves with their message. They waved signs until their arms were sore to protest unfair budget cuts at countless state rallies. And after long days in their classrooms — classrooms they knew they wouldn’t be returning to in the fall without federal aid — they sat down and penned heartfelt emails to their representatives and senators, imploring for the money to keep them on the job.

A quick look at the numbers. Supporters:

* sent 297,202 emails to Congress urging passage of the legislation
* placed 101, 636 calls to Congress
* joined NEA’s Speak Up for Education & Kids to the tune of 34,827 fans

Funding approved with the vote will help states cope with the Great Recession and stave off massive layoffs of educators and cuts to programs. The spending measure — an amendment offered by Murray and Harkin to H.R. 1586 —  includes $10 billion in aid to public schools and $16 billion to reimburse states for medical and social service programs (FMAP).

A broad coalition of more than 185 groups urged passage of the legislation, and governors of Delaware, Maryland, Illinois, Oregon, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Massachusetts lent their support as well, pointing to the dire situation facing their states’ schools without federal assistance. 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, gutting critical services and programs for students, or even closing schools entirely. Other districts are projecting class sizes to double as a direct result of the layoffs. These layoffs and cuts are coming at the same time schools are facing demands for better academic outcomes.

NEA launched a national campaign called Speak Up for Education & Kids to mobilize educators and others concerned about the budget crisis facing states and to raise awareness about the consequences of inaction.

Van Roekel urged the House to act swiftly to pass the emergency funding bill and stave off more economic damage to our schools.

“We need to keep schools open, educators working and students learning,” Van Roekel said.

For more information on Speak Up for Education & Kids, visit www.facebook.com/speakupforkids, For more information on saving educators’ jobs, visit www.educationvotes.nea.org/. Follow us on twitter at www.twitter.com/NEAMedia.

Photo: Patrick G. Ryan/NEA