WASHINGTON - July 07, 2020 - NEA President Lily Eskelsen García is scheduled to appear virtually today at the House Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy Hearing, titled “Paycheck Security: Economic perspectives on alternative approaches to protecting workers’ pay during COVID-19.” The following are remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Chairman Cleaver, Ranking Member Hill, and members of the Committee for this opportunity to provide testimony for today’s hearing. My name is Lily Eskelsen García, and I am a sixth-grade teacher from Utah, and president of the National Education Association, NEA.
“As NEA’s president, I am honored to represent more than 3 million teachers, education support professionals, and specialized instructional support professionals in K-12 public schools and on public college campuses. NEA also represents educators in Department of Defense schools, college students who plan to become educators, retired educators, and public employees in local and state government.
“I am so proud of — but not surprised by — how NEA members have risen to this moment and demonstrated the resilience, creativity, teamwork that we strive to cultivate in students. Educators have organized car caravans through students’ neighborhoods to deliver this message: Even though our school building is closed, I am still here for you. They have helped parents who overnight became substitute teachers. And they have cried with me over how many of their students they worry about, because school was the only stable place in their lives.
“As we speak today, governors and mayors are making steep budget cuts that will accentuate all of the harm spawned by this pandemic. Without federal assistance, we will see educator layoffs that will be particularly harsh for those who struggle most to make ends meet even during normal times, such as our wonderful, amazingly devoted education support professionals: for instance, the lunch ladies, like I once was, the school bus drivers, and the maintenance and repair staff. Many of these workers have stayed on the job, putting themselves in harm’s way to deliver meals to students and families, drop off work packets to students, and keep our schools sanitized and safe.
“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 900,000 public education jobs have already been lost because of budget cuts. By comparison, more than 350,000 education jobs were lost due to the Great Recession. In other words, COVID-19 has done more damage in three months than a recession that lasted for a year and a half. If this damage goes unchecked, nearly 2 million educators could lose their jobs over the next three years, according to NEA’s analysis. This would represent one-fifth of the workforce that powers public schools and higher education institutions. The ‘COVID-19’ recession could be six times worse for education than the 2008 financial crisis.
“Our nation has about 1.4 million more K-12 students than we had in 2008. Yet, now we have 135,000 fewer educators than we had 12 years ago. The layoffs that could stem from pandemic-related budget cuts would worsen what is already a dire situation.
“No community would be unaffected. But the schools in wealthy communities are more likely to weather this storm reasonably well, while schools in poorer communities, those that were already struggling with too few staff to meet students’ needs, will struggle mightily. Job losses in these schools would profoundly affect low-income students whose schools rely on Title I funding to reduce class sizes, hire specialists, and offer a rich curriculum.
“These losses would hamper our ability to reopen schools safely. Educators yearn to look into our students’ eyes and reassure them and give them the dedicated time and attention they need. But the safety of students and educators cannot be compromised. We know we will need to provide PPE for students and educators; modify just about every indoor and outdoor space and even school buses for social distancing; intensify instruction and support for students traumatized by the impact of the coronavirus on their families and communities; and much more. All of this demands more educators and more resources, not fewer.
“We thank the House for taking bold action to pass the HEROES Act, and we call on Mitch McConnell and the Senate to abandon their wait-and-see approach and act quickly. Schools are already planning for the upcoming school year and all of the new dilemmas that it will bring. To stave off the elimination of thousands of critical educator positions, NEA urges Congress to provide at least $175 billion more for the Education Stabilization Fund. In addition, we are calling for at least $56 million in directed funding for protective equipment, and at least $4 billion to create a special fund to help close the ‘Digital Divide.’ Even when schools do open, they will very likely need to incorporate online learning.
“NEA members also support Representative Jayapal’s Paycheck Recovery Act to avoid mass layoffs and enable workers, especially public sector workers now at risk, to keep employer-provided benefits such as healthcare coverage, which is crucial during a global pandemic. We thank Representative Jayapal for recognizing that mass unemployment does not have to be a consequence of this crisis.
“Even now, NEA members have not lost hope that we can come out of this as a stronger nation, able to provide the opportunities that every student deserves. We stand ready to work with this committee to ensure that students in every school have the support and educators they need.
“Thank you for your time. I am happy to answer any questions.”
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at www.nea.org.