Edu-jobs. For the past month or so, we have been hearing how our K-12 public school systems need $23 billion in emergency funding from the federal government in order to keep teachers across the nation in jobs this fall. EdSec Arne Duncan has made passioned pleas on Capitol Hill for such funding. The teachers unions have stood behind Duncan’s request in a way far stronger than they have ever supported the EdSec. And House leaders like Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (CA) and Appropriations Chairman David Obey (WI) have echoed the calls and urged their fellow leaders on the Hill to ask, “what about the teachers?”
To date, though, Congress has resisted. Many senators, wary of spending more and more money, have refused to move the issue forward. They even cite the absence of edu-jobs from President Obama’s request for emergency funding from Congress. Despite the best of intentions, right now, it seems like efforts to fund edu-jobs aren’t going anywhere.
It all has Eduflack thinking. In February of 2009, the U.S. Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $787 billion spending bill designed to help states and localities IMMEDIATELY deal with the budget shortfalls and shrinking coffers just about everyone was facing. By spring, we saw roadside signs erected declaring that this public works project or these jobs were funded courtesy of ARRA. Our K-12 schools got a big chunk of that money as well, with ARRA funding Race to the Top, i3, and big boosts to Title I and IDEA funding just for starters.
We’ve also heard how a great deal of the education ARRA funds went back to the school districts to pay for salaries. Despite the initial guidance that stimulus dollars were meant to be one-time injections, and were not designed to pay for long-term obligations (like teachers’ salaries) that would have to be funded well after all the ARRA money was spent, we still used the stimulus for teachers’ salaries. Just last month, one of President Obama’s leading economic advisors declared ARRA had saved 400,000 educator jobs across the country (while saying that one out of every 15 teachers could now be laid off without the additional $23 billion).
Curiosity has gotten the better of Eduflack. We committed $787 billion to economic stimulus that was needed as soon as possible. The funds were made available in February of 2009. It is now June 2010. The nearly $800 billion is all supposed to be spent by September of this year. According to the Recovery website, of that $787 billion that was so desperately needed, $406 billion has actually been paid out. There is still $381 billion still sitting in the kitty.
In California, the state seen as having the most dire current economic position (and the most difficulty paying teachers), only $8.8 billion of the nearly $22 billion promised to the Golden State has been dispersed. In New York, they’ve gotten $2.5 billion of their $12 billion. Illinois has taken in $3.7 billion of its $8.1 billion. Georgia’s taken in $2 billion of its $5.4 billion. Oregon’s taken in just $809 million of its $2.5 billion. And even the cash-strapped Ohio has only tapped $1.7 billion of its available $7.6 billion.
So it begs the question, why don’t we just reallocate some of the committed $787 billion in stimulus money to pay for the $23 billion in edu-jobs? The money was designed to help states and localities save jobs. Check. Funds have already been used to save teachers’ jobs (those 400K that Christina Romer touts). Check. There is plenty of money that still hasn’t been spent. Check. And we need to spend this soon. Seems like a win-win for all involved. And one could even win over the reformer crowd (which has been concerned that edu-jobs funding will simply perpetuate the notion of last hired, first fired and prize tenure over effective teaching). Tie the dollars to the priorities in ARRA, using RttT language to ensure that new edu-jobs spending is aligned with teacher and principal quality provisions being moved through Race.
A simplistic idea? Perhaps. But new federal funding for teachers’ jobs isn’t going anywhere. If the goal is to protect those educators and avoid laying off the “one in 15,” then why not ask Congress to reallocate the funding they’ve already spent? At this point, it is just like asking if we can use our allowance to buy baseball cards instead of bubble gum. The money’s already left Congress’ wallet.