Several states are already taking drastic action to avert the impending layoffs. Some schools in Kansas have gone to a four-day school week. Hawaii began Friday furloughs earlier this year. Some schools in Iowa are reducing full-day kindergartens to half days and putting off buying new text books.
Other lawmakers, however, have questioned bailing out the schools.
"Our governor, a Democratic governor, said at the time of the stimulus funding two years ago that these are one-time funds; don't spend it on continuing operations," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said at a congressional hearing last month. " I wonder from whose school children we're going to borrow this money, because we have a looming debt crisis in our country… We all want to help our children and help our schools, but that's a deep concern."
Education Secretary Arne Duncan supports an emergency education jobs bill, although he has stopped short of endorsing the Harkin bill. "This is a real emergency," Duncan told reporters last month. "What we're trying to avert is an education catastrophe."
Some lawmakers are also concerned what young people will think if they are interested in teaching -- and see their own teachers out of work.
"This sends a message to young people that this is an on-again-off-again profession," said Miller. "You don't know from one year to another where you're going to be and you're not going to get the resources that are necessary. We can't afford that message, our communities can't afford that message and clearly the children of this country can't afford this message."
At a congressional hearing this afternoon on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, educators and advocates debated the best way to support teachers and ensure teacher quality going forward.
With such massive layoffs on the horizon, the debate over teacher tenure is alive and well.
"Those 'first-in, last-out' layoff rules are now coming into play as states across the country are finding it necessary to reduce their teaching staffs during this time of fiscal strife," Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said in his testimony. "The result of basing layoffs on factors unrelated to classroom effectiveness will be that many wonderful young teachers will be let go and several poorly performing but experienced teachers will remain in the classroom."
Winters says the tenure system and the current teacher evaluation process fails to distinguish good teachers from bad ones. Instead, he advocates a new qualitative evaluation system based on a teacher's actual performance in the classroom.
"The common ground on teacher quality is to create systems that continuously develop and accurately evaluate teachers on an ongoing basis." Weingarten said in her testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee. "The current systems, despite their deficiencies, too often form the basis for many consequential decisions, such as whether a teacher is deemed to be performing satisfactorily, receives tenure, or is dismissed for what is determined to be poor performance."
Instead, Weingarten called for evaluation systems that continuously train teachers. "The focus of such systems should be on developing and supporting great teachers, not simply evaluating them," she noted.