President Barack Obama continued to pressure his Republican challengers on public education funding with the White House’s public release of the report, “Investing in Our Future: Returning Teachers to The Classroom.”
The report, prepared by the Council on Economic Affairs, the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council, confirms what many education observers have been saying: The fiscal crunch facing school districts across the nation is having a dire effect on the level of education students are receiving.
With the presidential election looming, the report also strikes a rather partisan tone as it at once blasts the Republicans’ education plans while trumpeting the merits of Obama’s American Jobs Act.
“This year, several thousand fewer educators will be going back to school. Since 2009, we’ve lost more than 300,000 education jobs, in part, because of budget cuts at the state and local level,” said Obama via a statement released by the White House. “Think about what that means for our country. At a time when the rest of the world is racing to out-educate America; these cuts force our kids into crowded classrooms, cancel programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, and shorten the school week and the school year. That’s the opposite of what we should be doing as a country.”
Obama also urged Congress to pass his measures during his weekly address.
The report analyzed many factors and trends, and found that, among other things, the teacher-student ratio had risen 4.6 percent from 2008 to 2010 — the last year in which a full data set is available. Since that time, local governments and school districts have laid off roughly 150,000 teachers, doubtless increasing that ratio.
That resonates locally, as the School District of Philadelphia recently announced a series of layoffs and other cost-cutting measures enacted by the School Reform Commission’s five-year reorganization blueprint.
To deal with funding cuts, the report found that among school district officials nationwide, 54 percent opted to increase class sizes, while a further 22 percent decided to eliminate summer school programs. The remaining 35 percent reduced non-mandated programs, such as after school and weekend hours. The School District of Philadelphia carried out all three of these options.
“Parents know from common sense that laying off teachers, increasing class sizes, and cutting back on crucial programs hurts students. And a detailed look at the evidence — based on well-designed randomized experiments — confirms that larger class sizes have lasting negative effects: lowering high-school graduation rates, reducing the chance that students take college entrance exams like the ACT or SAT, and lowering the chance of college enrollment and completion,” read the report’s findings. “If we want our country to be a magnet for middle-class jobs in the 21st century, we have to invest more in education, not less. Yet we are entering the school year with tens of thousands fewer educators than we did last year.
“Had the Congress passed the American Jobs Act last year as the President urged them to do, these harsh effects could have been mitigated. The president’s plan, reflected in his FY2013 budget, would invest $25 billion to prevent teacher layoffs and provide states with the funds they need as they continue to face difficult budgetary environments.”
The report is very critical of Republican-led attempts to cut several school funding streams by 2014 — most notably Title I and IDEA Grants, which would eliminate nearly 65,000 teachers, including 27,000 special education teachers and instructors.
“That’s backwards. That’s wrong. That plan doesn’t invest in our future; it undercuts our future,” Obama said. “If we want America to lead in the 21st century, nothing is more important than giving everyone the best education possible — from the day they start preschool to the day they start their career.”
The American Jobs Act would invest $25 billion in both state and local education efforts, including the rehiring and retraining of laid off teachers while reversing the attrition rate. “If enacted, these teacher stabilization funds would help prevent layoffs and support the hiring or re-hiring of hundreds of thousands of educators, including teachers, guidance counselors, classroom assistants, afterschool personnel, tutors, and literacy and math coaches,” the report concluded. “These funds will ensure that schools are able to keep teachers in the classroom, preserve or extend the regular school day and school year, and maintain important afterschool activities as states and local governments continue to face difficult budget environments.”