Critics: Teachers' Jobs Measure Cheats Children

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Congress is showering schools with $10 billion to bring back teachers who've been laid off. States are rushing to submit their applications to qualify for this unexpected summer windfall for school districts. The Education Department estimates the measure will save 160,000 jobs. The GOP says it's a gift to teachers' unions.


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Next, we're going to follow the money - the money that Congress committed to schools this week. The House approved, and President Obama quickly signed a bill that includes $10 billion intended to save as many 160,000 education jobs. We're going to talk about what happens with that money with NPR's Larry Abramson, who covers education.

Hi, Larry.


INSKEEP: So how quickly could this money actually get to the schools?

ABRAMSON: Well, the Education Department is aware that school is already starting in some places, and that if they're going to hire enough teachers for the start of school, they need this money, basically, yesterday. So they're saying that as soon as states get their applications in, it should take only a couple of weeks for them to get this money.

And I've talked to some teachers who were told that they were going to be laid off, but are already being given the nod - we may be able to hire you back. And they're pretty excited about that, as you can imagine.

INSKEEP: That's unusually quick. I remember when the stimulus bill was passed last year, one of the criticisms was, it's going to take months - if not years - to get some of that money flowing. How could this move within weeks?

ABRAMSON: Well, you know, there were a lot of conditions attached to the stimulus money. It was huge, and it was divided up into a lot of different pots. And schools also had to show the Education Department that they were going to do certain things.

This money is pretty unconditional, and it's distributed according to population. So California will get the most, and smaller states will get less. It's pretty straightforward. And like I said, they're aware that it needs to get out quickly in order to do any good.

INSKEEP: So will this money bring back everybody who's been laid off in teaching?��

ABRAMSON: It won't. You know, it's very difficult to calculate how many layoffs there really would have been and there already were. But take a state like New Jersey. Education officials down there told me that they've laid off 15,000 teachers. They're expected to be able to rehire about four - maybe 5,000 teachers back. So a lot of people are still going to be on the unemployment lines from the teaching profession.

But again, you know, teaching is a very elastic profession. Well into the school year, schools are hiring, adding staff, because more children arrive in their district. They're discovering they need another special ed teacher.

So a lot of people have questions about these numbers and whether or not there really ever were going to be as many as 250,000, 300,000 layoffs, as some education groups said there would be.

INSKEEP: Well, there certainly will be fewer layoffs, it sounds like.


INSKEEP: But critics may be reminded of that old saying about throwing money at a problem. They are throwing money at this problem. Is there any downside in doing that?

ABRAMSON: You know, I think that from the point of view of Republicans and fiscal conservatives, the downside is that we're going to have to pay this money back at some point. They're also calling this a gift to the unions by the Democrats. Democrats have been having some collisions with teachers' unions. Now they can say, well, we did something for you.

And of course, some of this money has to come out of other programs, because it has to be paid for. Some of those programs are actually education programs that are going to be cut in order to pay for another education program.

And, you know, one of the biggest protests came from education groups themselves, because they were upset that food stamp payouts are going to be cut as soon as 2014 in order to pay for this particular provision. And they said it doesn't make any sense to take money away from children in order to give money to teachers.

INSKEEP: Just so we're clear on what we're saying here. You're saying that Congress didn't want to make the deficit any worse with this $10 billion in spending, and so they found offsetting cuts to finance it, basically.

ABRAMSON: That's right. Under spending rules, they have to find offsetting cuts. They found those offsetting cuts in the food stamp program. And by some calculations, in 2014, families will lose $59 a month in food stamps. And a lot of people say that that wasn't really a fair tradeoff.

INSKEEP: What happens with some of the jobs that are saved when next year rolls around?

ABRAMSON: Well, you know, next year is predicted to be just as bad or worse in many education districts. And you know, this year, some districts still have stimulus money that they're spending. And I think that many fiscal conservatives are worried that teachers are just going to come back again next year and say, we're in even worse trouble. We need more federal spending on education. And it could get very expensive.

NPR's Larry Abramson, thanks very much.

ABRAMSON: Thank you, Steve.

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