Themes in the News for the week of Aug. 9-13, 2010 by UCLA IDEA staff
08-13-2010 - After they were called back from their August break for an emergency voting session, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a $26 billion bill that will go toward saving jobs and covering Medicaid payments. Ten billion dollars—less than half the $23 billion in the original bill—is designated for saving about 160,000 teaching jobs across the nation.
Although the Democratic majority and most mainstream media focused on the bill’s intention to save jobs and stabilize state budgets (Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, Education Week, KPCC), some prominent Republican legislators described it as a “teachers union bailout.” Much less political and media attention was given to the tremendous difference the money would mean to the education of students who ultimately would benefit from having more teachers at their schools.
California is expected to receive $1.2 billion for about 16,500 teachers. That breaks down to about $200 per student, on average, to blunt the state’s education shortfall. The money won’t restore all lost teaching positions and school programs, nor will it replace many of the days cut from the school year.
It will take time and resources to undo the chaos created by the long delay of help. The state’s approximately 1,000 school districts had to adopt budgets for the 2010-11 school year in June, making cuts based on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s May proposal that called for $2.5 billion in reductions to education. Furthermore, it will be weeks before California receives any federal funds and districts do not know how big a slice of the pie they can expect (California Watch). Add to that the uncertainty about which teachers will be back in classrooms or when. Jeffrey Seymour, superintendent of El Monte City School District, asked “[who] could be hired, could music teachers be rehired, or does it have to be regular classroom teachers?” (KPCC)
“There’s still unmet need out there,” reported Education Secretary Arne Duncan (Education Week). Duncan said he planned to streamline the application process for states and districts to receive money quickly. Some have said the effects will be more apparent during the 2011-12 school year (Sacramento Bee).
Hundreds of thousands of California teachers and students returning to school in the next few days and weeks will face that “unmet need.” As she prepared for the first day of school, a Spring Valley third-grade teacher added eight desks to her classroom and cut erasers in half. “Giving students half an eraser is not going to hurt them—not having the reading teacher, the bilingual teacher and a counselor this year will. I wish I could cut myself in half to give my bigger class of kids more personal attention” (San Diego Union-Tribune).
Districts’ typically accommodate large budget gaps by increasing class sizes so schools can operate with fewer teachers—their most costly educational resource. There is a point at which classes get so large that teachers cannot simply work harder, smarter, or longer to make up for the lost personal attention they could otherwise give to students.
Representative David Obey, D-Wisc., who advocated this spring for the $23 billion version of the bill, said the new measure would help the economy but also blunt the pain felt in classrooms. “We do the country no favors if we allow the weakness of the economy to strip qualified teachers from our schools, which in turn would result in exploding class sizes and a decline in educational opportunities for children” (New York Times).