By Ben Velderman
WASHINGTON – On Saturday, the White House released a new report that chronicles how the sour economy has affected the nation’s public schools.
The partisan report, titled “Investing in Our Future: Returning Teachers to the Classroom,” notes that 300,000 teaching jobs have been lost since the recession ended three years ago, writes MLive.com.
President Obama drew attention to the report in his weekly radio address this weekend.
“This year, several thousand fewer educators will be going back to school,” Obama said. “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.”
The president wants Congress to pass his American Jobs Act, which would provide $30 billion in state aid to hire teachers.
If it seems like we’ve been down this road before, it’s because we have.
Two summers ago, Congress passed a $10 billion “edujobs” bailout designed to help cash-strapped states “keep teachers in the classroom.” While the 2010 school bailout succeeded in keeping some teachers and aides in the classroom, it also allowed school districts to ignore their systemic spending problems – at least until the next national election.
Most school districts spend 70 to 80 percent of their budgets on labor costs. School boards needed to get those costs down by demanding some “givebacks” from school employee unions. But the $10 billion bailout allowed many school boards and school employee unions to avoid those difficult conversations.
So here we are, two years later, and the problem still exists.
If it weren’t an election year, maybe President Obama would acknowledge that this problem cannot be solved simply by giving fiscally irresponsible school districts another bailout. The problem can only be solved by reining in the collective bargaining privileges of teacher unions, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proved with his recent Act 10 legislation.
But the president doesn’t want to talk about that, since it would anger his enthusiastic teacher union supporters.
Instead, he’s choosing to focus on the higher class sizes that result from teacher layoffs. The White House reports states that since 2008, the student-to-teacher ratio has increased from 15.3 to 16.0.
The president’s concern about keeping class sizes small contradicts what his own education secretary has been saying few the past few years.
In 2011, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that “class size is a sacred cow and we need to take it on,” reports the Huffington Post. Duncan told the news site that he’s okay with larger class sizes, provided that a “phenomenal teacher” is leading the class
Research confirms Duncan’s views; teacher quality has a much greater impact on student achievement than class size does.
But smaller class sizes means more teacher union jobs. And since it’s an election year, President Obama has made the calculation that it’s more important to share the teacher unions’ obsession with class sizes, than to acknowledge it’s an overblown concern.