Joelle Beck is one of roughly 17,000 teachers in the state of Illinois to be laid off before the next school year begins. Due to a $1.5 million deficit in her district, she and 25 other teachers will not be going back to class in the fall.
Beck's story is increasingly common. With more than a quarter of a million teachers across the country facing layoffs, the educational future of American students is increasingly uncertain.
"Our students will be struggling to keep their heads above water in classrooms of 30-plus students while one teacher attempts to meet the individual needs of each student and help them learn to their fullest potential," Beck said at a Capitol Hill press conference today. "A message is conveyed to our students that their education holds little value in the eyes of our government and that their future and their success is meaningless."
Teachers like Beck joined congressmen and teacher advocates today to support federal legislation to prevent the massive cuts.
"We can't shortchange kids and their education just as we're making inroads on genuine schools reforms that will transform public schools. The federal government didn't walk away from Wall Street, and it shouldn't walk away from our kids' public schools. Education should be considered too big to fail," said Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.
Weingarten joined Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Rep. George Miller, D-California; and Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association in announcing the "Pink Hearts, Not Pink Slips" campaign to draw attention to the impending layoffs and rally support to avert the cuts. Harkin, 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.
"This country is about to face a massive wave of layoffs in our schools and institutions of higher learning that could weaken our economic recovery and cause serious damage to our education system," Harkin said. "This bill is an investment in our kids, in our economy and in our future."
In addition to state budget shortfalls, stimulus funding for education is winding down. The Recovery Act, specifically the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF), 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 SFSF funding.
With a steep funding "cliff" imminent, states will likely be forced to make broader 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.
The numbers are staggering. Before the start of the next school year Education Secretary Arne Duncan has estimated up to 300,000 teachers could be laid off. California alone has already sent out over 23,000 pink slips.
"The thing you must remember is that 300,000 adults leave those schools, there's not one less child there," Van Roekel said.