Memorial Day weekend invariably signals the denouement of the school year. In good years the feeling is good for both students and teachers. This year has been, by most accounts, anything but good and the prospects for short-term improvement recently became dimmer.
Congress adjourned for its Memorial Day recess without considering measures which would provide relief to local school districts around the nation faced with the very real prospect of massive layoffs. We are talking about approximately $23 billion and the ECS (Education Commission of the States) released estimates on May 28 that indicate Connecticut would receive nearly $251 million. Ninety-eight percent of the money would be distributed directly to local districts through a state’s school finance formula and ECS estimates that this translates into approximately 3000 teaching positions for Connecticut.
Depending on who you listen to, opinions range from “It’s dead in the water” to “They just could not complete it in time and will take it up soon after returning.”
Early last week, the Senate plan was to attach the measure to a military spending bill, but Senator Harkin announced that he simply did not have the necessary 60 votes required and pulled the bill. According to Michelle McNeill at EdWeek, Harkin is committed to finding a vehicle to accomplish it and cited the House effort. On Thursday, however, David Obey, (D-WI) chair of the House Appropriations Committee, decided not to convene his panel after having participated in a press conference on Wednesday with Arne Duncan and George Miller, (D-CA) chairman, House Education and Labor Committee, urging passage of the emergency measure. Last Friday, after it was apparent that the proposal was in trouble and some Democrats were questioning the President’s commitment to the issue, the Washington Post published an op-ed piece by Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, “How to Prevent Huge Teacher Layoffs.”
There has been a lot of pressure exerted from a variety of reform groups to use the money to leverage states to eliminate seniority as the primary consideration in teacher layoffs — the so-called “last hired – first fired” provisions. The debate is not new, nor is its occurrence any less predictable. What may be new is how empowered certain insiders are feeling inside the beltway after seeing how successful Secretary Duncan has been using the same template with Race to the Top monies. For a flavor of the current debate on seniority check out these links:
– The National Journal Expert Blogs: Education The Education Jobs Bill And Reform
The next few weeks are critical and it is well worth the effort to remind members of the Senate and House how important this money will be for Connecticut and the nation.