Friday, April 16, 2010



04-16-2010 -- On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced a $23 billion jobs bill that would prevent thousands of teachers and other school staff from being laid off this year. The senator’s measure is an extension of last year’s economic stimulus package, which provided nearly $100 billion to help avoid massive layoffs in schools (Education Week). That funding is running out, yet the need remains.

To close multimillion-dollar budget gaps, some districts have eliminated summer school and arts programs, closed libraries, shortened school years, slashed benefits and laid off staff. Nationwide, up to 300,000 school employee positions could be gone (Washington Post).

Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke plainly to reporters on Capitol Hill this week. “This is a real emergency. What we’re trying to avert is an education catastrophe,” he said (Washington Post).

Harkin spoke with similar urgency, saying the bill needs to be passed immediately as school districts across the country finalize their budgets for the 2010-11 school year. A similar House bill introduced in December stalled in the Senate. Money from the Harkin bill could be used for salary and benefits to help districts keep employees and hire new staff for early-childhood, K-12 or postsecondary services. It could also go toward on-the-job training (Education Week).

“How can you argue that it’s OK for a kid to borrow to go to college but it’s not OK to borrow so that there’s a college for the kid to go to?” Harkin said. “If there’s one legitimate area where we can borrow from the future, it’s education, because what sort of jobs will we have for my grandkids and great grandkids in the future if we don’t have a well-educated group of young people today?” (Business Week).

Nationally, the economy is showing signs of recovery, but school districts are still reeling. Because most states fund classrooms through some combination of taxes on income, sales and property, high unemployment has crippled those revenues (Miami Herald).

California’s 12.6 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate. Statewide, districts issued more than 22,000 pink slips to teachers last month. With 72,000 employees, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the county’s second largest employer and must grapple with a $640 million deficit this year and a projected shortfall of $263 million next school year. Last year, about 2,000 teachers were laid off and this year looks only slightly better, but only because the district and teacher’s union agreed to shorten the school year, a move that saved about 1,400 jobs (Los Angeles Daily News).

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines, testifying before Harkin’s subcommittee this week, said: “You name it. Teachers, administrators, counselors, school nurses, cafeteria workers, support personnel are part of an exodus forced by financial realities” (Huffington Post).

Through federal Title I and stimulus funds, LAUSD was able to save about 7,000 jobs. But Cortines said the school finance would be healthier had Sacramento not siphoned off funds meant for schools to close its budget gap (Huffington Post). Harkin’s bill could provide LAUSD with more than $250 million, almost 40 percent of its current budget deficit (Business Week).

The consequences of cutting summer school, shortening the school year or laying off teachers don’t remain on campus and affect only the students. Aside from being a teacher, a principal, a janitor or a librarian, these individuals are also LAUSD parents and community members. Laying them off means the district will have to stretch itself further to provide support services for those students and their families. Cutbacks remove revenue from the local economy and negatively affect education quality. Both have consequences that will be felt for generations to come.

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