Education Jobs Bill

I can’t help thinking of one of those old silent movies. You know, where the hero arrives on his white steed to save the heroine from certain death at the hands of the villain. Only in this scenario, the hero isn’t some strapping young man, it’s Congress armed with the $10 billion Education Jobs Bill. The heroine strapped to the railroad tracks with a runaway train bearing down? The jobs of thousands of educators in peril due to the budgetary woes of school districts across the nation.

New York is slated to receive some $607 million under the plan, which received the final seal of approval from the president yesterday. Enough to avert the layoff of around 8,100 teachers, according to numbers released by Senator Charles Schumer’s office earlier this week. Depending on how the state decides to allocate those funds, it could mean $2.47 million for Chenango County schools.

But is this initiative really the panacea legislators and teachers unions would have us believe it to be?

On the surface, it does look like the answer to everyone’s prayers. No one likes to see anyone lose their job, particularly those responsible for educating our nation’s youth. Today’s students are, after all, our future. This past budget season was brutal, as districts (and taxpayers) were forced to make tough decisions based on economic realities.

I think it can be argued that the wake-up call was long overdue. Let’s face it, schools (and lots of other entities) had turned into state and federal aid junkies, spending as much as they could get their hands on. When that aid started to dry up, they were forced to become more fiscally responsible. Unfortunately, as schools strove to balance their desire to maintain programs and positions with the burden on local taxpayers, a large number of jobs were put on the line.

The line, being the unemployment line. My heart bleeds for the teachers who have lost their jobs this past year, and those who are trying desperately trying to secure their first teaching positions. Because I have close friends which fall in both of those categories.

Now, in the eleventh hour, the federal government is riding to the rescue. But where were they when schools were actually making those tough decisions? Those districts have already reworked schedules and classes to operate with smaller numbers of staff. And what about states like Tennessee, where students have already returned from summer vacation?

None of those are insurmountable challenges of course – although they do seem counterproductive. More troubling to me is the fact that this is yet another temporary fix. The rumor is that schools will only be able to use the money to reinstate staff members. But what happens next year, when these federal funds are no longer there? Those same teachers and support staff will be right back on that chopping block.

And they’ll have company. Since at the end of this school year, federal stimulus money – which saved many schools last year – will dry up. Many local districts are already sweating this “funding cliff,” as they call it.

So, yes. I question the timing of this Education Jobs Bill, which comes so late in the game and, I might add, suspiciously close to the primary season and November elections. I question the temporary nature of this fix, during a time when we desperately need long-term solutions and reform. I question the message it sends about fiscal responsibility. Because we should all realize by now that “free money” really isn’t free. And New York, as a whole, contributes more in taxes to the federal government than it receives in return.

I want to see our local students receive a stellar education. I want to see New York schools at the top of every ranking. I don’t want to see teachers on the unemployment line when they should be in the classroom. But I think they deserve more than a temporary fix.

In short, I’m just not sure this Education Jobs Bill is the answer.

But then, I’m always something of a skeptic.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.

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