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Duncan, NEA and AFT Endorse Legislation, But Opposition Could Stall Bill in Congress

O'Connell Urges Support of $23 Billion Emergency Federal Education Jobs Fund

June 3, 2010

State and federal education officials are rallying the troops in support of federal legislation that could provide funds to save teacher jobs in local school districts – but the bill is running into opposition from groups worried about the size of the federal budget deficit.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell is urging California Congressional representatives to support $23 billion in federal education funding proposed by the Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010, also known as the Education Jobs Fund in the 2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act, S. 3206.

“This proposed funding would help California and other states provide much-needed support to students and schools facing unprecedented cuts to education,” O’Connell said.  In letters sent last week to U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Representatives Joe Baca and Dennis Cardoza, O’Connell said California schools had sustained $17 billion in cuts in the last two years and state educators and students face another $2.4 billion in cuts this year. O’Connell plans to lobby other Congressional members as well.

In his letters, O’Connell wrote, “Pink slips have been handed to 26,004 teachers, class sizes are ballooning, summer school programs have been canceled, and the school year has been shortened. The Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010 is just what public education needs to ensure that schools can continue to meet the needs of students who face an increasingly competitive future in the global economy.”

He noted that the Education Commission of the States estimates California could receive $2.1 billion for kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12), $631 million for higher education, and $2.7 billion for project funding to the state. O’Connell said the funds were “critical” and could help California create and retain more than 25,000 K-12 teaching jobs in California alone while creating or saving more than 300,000 education jobs at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels nationwide .

“While I have great faith that our hard-working teachers and parents will help students continue to succeed in school, California and other states critically need the support of Washington to pass S. 3206 with urgency to help them sustain this important work,” O’Connell added in his letters supporting the funding proposal.

Support for the same bill is also growing at the federal level.  Last Wednesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, Reps. Dave Obey (D-Wis.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) and AFT President Randi Weingarten in support of an education jobs bill to prevent dramatic and damaging cuts to resources and services that help kids succeed in school.  At the forefront was the “Education Jobs Fund,” legislation that would provide $23 billion in emergency funding for education jobs.

The group was joined by teachers who have recently received layoff notices and shared their stories about the education cuts.  Catie 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. Poff shared how the layoffs are affecting her students. “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.”

NEA President Van Roekel noted, “The nation’s economic crisis has pushed public education to a tipping point, but there is still a chance to stave off more damage.  Congress can choose to put students first by supporting a bill that will keep their teachers and other essential personnel and programs in our schools.  All students deserve the highest quality education, and their education shouldn’t be diminished because we lack the political will to act.  Every parent and community member and elected official needs to understand the real consequences to this funding crisis.”

Representative Obey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, remarked, “The Recovery Bill last year saved over 300,000 education jobs, but, because states have not yet recovered, and local economies are just beginning the recovery process, we still have a shortage of the financial resources necessary to keep teachers, firemen and policemen on the job for another year while state budgets catch up.  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.”

In April, Secretary Duncan testified before Congress that up to 300,000 educators could lose their jobs in the upcoming school year.  In addition to potential layoffs, states and districts are cutting programs that are vital for the success of students.  They’re canceling or scaling back summer school, early learning and after-school programs.  Some school districts are going to four-day weeks.  School counselors, nurses, and librarians are also at risk, as are extracurricular activities, arts programs, and sports.

At the press conference Duncan commented, “School boards and state legislatures are finalizing their education budgets for the upcoming school year and many face tough choices about whether to retain teachers and continue programs that are vital to their ability to provide a world-class education for their students.  We must act quickly and responsibly to provide schools the resources they need so they don’t have to make choices that would not be in the best interests of their students and teachers.”

But it remains to be seen whether a majority of legislators will support the bill.  Opponents include House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who said "Giving states another $23 billion in federal education money simply throws more money into taxpayer-funded bailouts when we should be discussing why we aren't seeing the results we need from the billions in federal dollars that are already being spent.”

The bill has also gotten a cool reception from some school reform/charter school groups, like columnist Lynne K. Varner of the Seattle Times, who wrote “I want to see more money going to schools, but when every dollar counts, we can't afford money that doesn't take us farther down the road toward reform. Spending money as fast as it can be printed is shortsighted and meaningless without long-term improvements and accountability goals firmly attached.” Varner suggested Congress should “Put a lid on federal education stimulus (funds) until (teacher) unions come to the table.”

Sources:  California Department of Education, U.S. Department of Education, EdBrief staff.