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Educators urge Senate to act quickly to inject much needed funds into ailing economy

Investing in schools is good economics

WASHINGTON - February 05, 2009 -

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and education leaders from across the country today joined Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Americans affected by the worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression, in urging the Senate to act quickly to inject much needed funds into the ailing economy, especially the nation’s public schools and colleges.

“These are frightening economic times,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Like millions of Americans around the country, educators and their families are feeling the economic pinch firsthand. This is not a time for partisanship; it is a time for partnership.”

The Senate is debating the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a two-year, $850 billion economic package, including $150 billion aimed at infusing federal funds into the nation’s schools, colleges, states and communities, to cope with the worst economic and financial crisis in generations. The House passed a similar version in late January.

Schools around the country are reporting record numbers of students who are homeless or poor enough to qualify for free school meals and record numbers of students needing donated backpacks and school supplies because their families cannot afford to buy them.  According to one study, at least 41 states faced, or are facing, shortfalls in their budgets for this year and/or next. At least 16 states are cutting or proposing cuts in K–12 and early education; 17 have implemented or proposed cuts to public colleges and universities; and several of them are also reducing access to child care and early education.

“The time to act boldly is now,” said Van Roekel. “We urge the Senate to act quickly to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, because investing in schools is good economics. Timely action by the Senate will go a long way toward providing students with 21st century learning environments and ensuring great public schools for all students.” 

According to media reports, some school districts have already begun cutting back. From Los Angeles to New York, and places in between, school districts are making some tough choices. Unless these districts receive federal support, New York City will have to dismiss 15,000 of the city’s 80,000 teachers; Los Angeles is considering letting go of 2,300 teachers; and near St. Louis, a school district is laying off hundreds of teachers.

The Senate economic package includes $79 billion in targeted funds to take pressure off state budgets and avoid further layoffs of teachers and education support professionals; $16 billion for public school modernization; $13.9 billion to increase the federal Pell Grant by $500 and $6 billion for higher education modernization; $13 billion for Title I services to provide extra reading and math services to educationally disadvantaged students; and $13 billion to help school districts provide services to students with disabilities.

“The infusion of targeted federal funds through existing state and federal formulas, the largest since World War II, into state coffers and local school districts will help prevent devastating cuts to critical education programs and layoffs of thousands of teachers and education support professionals,” said Van Roekel. “In addition, the funds for school construction will go a long way toward repairing, renovating and modernizing America’s aging public schools, many of which are more than 50 years old.”

“And equally as important as creating jobs and getting the economy moving again, modernizing schools addresses one of the most critical elements affecting student learning—the working conditions in which teachers and education support professionals can apply their knowledge and skills to most effectively help children learn,” continued Van Roekel.

And for the first time since the federal government became involved in public education, the Senate would take important steps to live up to its promise to fully fund programs for low-income students (Title I) and students in special education (IDEA).

“We urge the Senate to pass this important economic recovery package, because providing funds for programs that serve disadvantaged students and students with disabilities will save jobs and will take pressure off state budgets already stretched to their limits,” said Van Roekel.

Joining Mr. Van Roekel at the press conference were: Thomas Dooher, president, Education
Minnesota; Ken Swanson, president, Illinois Education Association; Daniel N. Marzoni II, president, Arkansas Education Association; Patricia Frost-Brooks, president, Ohio Education Association; and David Sanchez, president, California Teachers Association. These education leaders brought their message to Washington about what their members— higher education faculty and staff, teachers, school bus drivers, crossing guards and other school personnel—are experiencing as a result of the tough economic times.  

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.