The Obama administration came out Thursday in support of emergency education funding legislation that would provide $23 billion to preserve teacher jobs in the face of massive impending layoffs across the country.
"We are gravely concerned that ongoing state and local budget challenges are threatening hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs for the upcoming school year, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 education jobs at risk," Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
"Without swift action, millions of children will experience these budget cuts in one way or another through reductions in class time; cuts to early childhood programs, extracurricular activities, and summer school; and reduced course offerings as teachers are laid off," the letter continued.
Duncan's letter, which received White House support, urged Congress to include the emergency funding in an upcoming supplemental spending bill to fund military operations and other expenses.
"We know that economic prosperity and educational success go hand in hand, which is why the Obama administration is concerned by looming state and local budget cuts that threaten the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers across the country," Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes wrote in a blog posted yesterday to the White House website.
In addition to the $23 billion to save teacher jobs, Duncan also asked Congress to approve $2 billion to support police and firefighter jobs and an additional $1 billion for early childhood education jobs.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on education, has proposed legislation, the "Keep Our Educators Working Act," which would create a $23 billion education jobs fund to help states retain and hire teachers and other school staff members.
While the bill has significant support from Democrats, several Republicans have voiced concerns that it would be yet another government bailout.
"The most important thing we can do to protect our children is to stop the reckless spending that has already mortgaged their future. The federal government cannot afford another $23 billion modeled on the failed economic stimulus, and our states cannot afford to become wards of the federal government," senior Republican member of the House Education and Labor Committee Rep John Kline, R-Minn., said in a statement.
In addition to state budget shortfalls across the country, stimulus funding for education is also winding down. The Recovery Act, specifically the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, has helped save upwards of 300,000 education jobs. Since the Recovery Act was enacted, the Education Department has provided roughly $100 billion to states. The Harkin bill would, in essence, be an extension of the state funding.
With a steep funding "cliff" imminent, states will likely be forced to make broad cuts. Massive layoffs of teachers are expected to have a dramatic impact on students: come next fall students may face larger class sizes, fewer after-school and summer programs, and the elimination of certain subjects -- such as art, music, or advanced placement classes.