In a speech to Congress on September 8, President Obama laid out a broad proposal to put Americans back to work with economic measures that both Democrats and Republicans have agreed upon in the past.
“The next election is fourteen months away,” the President said. “And the people who sent us here – the people who hired us to work for them – they don’t have the luxury of waiting fourteen months. Some of them are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.”
The President’s plan focuses on help for the middle class. With tax cuts and government programs, the President’s “American Jobs Act” would put an estimated $447 billion into the pockets of working Americans and businesses to speed recovery from the worst recession since the Depression.
High on the list of programs was $30 billion to prevent the layoffs of up to 280,000 teachers and rehire tens of thousands more.
“These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher,” President Obama said. “But while they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves. It’s unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours. And it has to stop. Pass this jobs bill, and put our teachers back in the classroom where they belong.”
The President called for $25 billion to repair and modernize 35,000 schools, creating construction jobs by fixing roofs and windows and installing science labs and high-speed internet in classrooms. He asked for an additional $5 billion to upgrade community colleges.
“There are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating,” he said. “How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school – and we can give it to them, if we act now.”
President Obama also proposed a new Pathways Back to Work Fund to provide hundreds of thousands of low-income youth and adults with opportunities to work and to achieve needed training in growth industries.
The major parts of the President’s program included cutting payroll taxes in half for both employees and employers in 2012, extending unemployment insurance, and giving companies financial incentives to hire the unemployed.
Most of all, the President underlined the importance of fast action and an end to political gridlock. “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans – including many who sit here tonight,” he said.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who had written to the President before the speech asking him to help schools make up for drastic budget shortfalls, said the plan shows Obama “continues to demonstrate his commitment to the success of all students.”
“We’ve heard from our members across the country as they have been returning to school. They are seeing overcrowded classes, and teachers are concerned about how they can provide every student with a well-rounded education when so many programs have been cut,” said Van Roekel.
Besides directly helping schools, he said, the jobs plan will improve the education of America’s students because “unemployment isn’t just an economic issue – it’s an education issue. Our members have seen firsthand the devastating impact unemployment is having on our communities and our schools. Too many of our students are coming to schools hungry and without the basic supplies they need as moms and dads struggle to make ends meet.”
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Video: “Put Our Teachers Back in the Classroom”