Letter to Senator Harkin Supporting his Middle Class Bill
March 29, 2012
Dear Senator Harkin:
On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we would like to offer our support for your proposals to help strengthen the middle class. We thank you for your leadership in introducing this legislation and in particular for your focus on investments in education.
Today’s middle class is struggling and many previously financially secure families are finding themselves falling into poverty. The faltering economy, the housing crisis, rising food and gas prices, and attacks on workers’ rights have combined to undermine and destabilize the middle class.
Public education is the greatest tool we have to maintaining, increasing and strengthening the middle class. Every day in schools across the country, hard working educators give children the skills they need to become successful learners, agile problem solvers, and creative thinkers, preparing them not only to enter the workforce but to think and act as citizens.
Investments in education make both good fiscal sense and good public policy. Funding targeted to quality public schools will see the greatest return on taxpayer money and will strengthen the entire economy. When we invest in public education, lower and middle incomes grow even more than upper incomes, positively impacting businesses’ bottom line as lower-income people spend their new income on consumer goods and services. In a typical state, investing two percent more in public education generates 3,900 new jobs and $92 million in new personal income. An equal tax cut generates less than half those gains — 1,500 new jobs and $41 million in new personal income. (Richard Sims, NEA Research, previously Director, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, 2011). The real rate of return on investments in education and training programs — in terms of payoff to lifetime earnings relative to the upfront costs — is 5 to 15 percent per year. (Jason Bendor, Jason Bordoff and Joshua Furman. “An Education Strategy to Promote Opportunity, Prosperity, and Growth,” The Brookings Institution, 2007).
Your legislation focuses on several areas critical to helping the middle class. We particularly support your proposals to:
- Modernize schools and campuses. Targeted resources for school and campus repair and modernization will jump start the economy and ensure students the learning environments so essential to their success. Our children deserve manageable class-sizes and modernized and energy-efficient school buildings. Yet, on average, our public schools are more than 40 years old and need an estimated $500 billion in repairs and upgrades.
Your bill will make sure students have the learning environments they need and deserve. In addition, it will help create good jobs to put Americans back to work. Construction and building repair such as that funded under your bill generally create 9,000-10,000 jobs per billion dollars spent. We are very pleased that your legislation includes funding to modernize community college facilities. Community college enrollments continue to rise as workers seek to enhance their skills in order to find employment in this tough economy or advance in their careers. Modernization of facilities is critical to accommodate these record numbers of students.
- Invest in early childhood education and child care. It is clear that high quality education before a child turns five yields significant long-term benefits. Children’s learning begins well before they enter elementary school, and the transition to school must be founded on strong school readiness. Quality early childhood education is a key predictor of a child's future educational achievement and emotional development. Children need proper stimulation and education from birth through age six in order to ensure full development and adequate preparation for the rigors of school. Research shows that children who participate in quality early education programs perform better academically and exhibit better cognitive and social skills—on both a short-term and long-term basis—than similar children who do not participate in such programs.
- Provide resources to save educator and first responder jobs. The situation in schools across the nation is unacceptable, as layoffs and budget cuts create ballooning class sizes and elimination of programs that help students succeed. We are sending our children a message that they do not matter and are not a priority for the nation. When educators lose their jobs, students lose too. Each fall, fewer dedicated professionals are there to greet and care for students — fewer teachers, teachers’ aides, librarians, bus drivers, food service workers, counselors, and nurses.
- Fund professional development on college and career ready standards. We are pleased that your proposal creates a grant program to assist school districts in providing additional professional development opportunities for teachers as they transition to college and career ready standards. Teacher quality is the single most critical factor in maximizing student achievement. Ongoing, quality professional development is essential to ensure that educators stay up-to-date on the skills and knowledge necessary to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.
Again, we thank you for your leadership and focus on strengthening America’s middle class. We look forward to working with you as your legislation move through Congress.
Director, Center for Advocacy
Director of Government Relations