"[W]e cannot commit to raising [educational] standards in one breath and turn around and issue layoff notices to thousands of teachers in the next," columnist David Broder wrote yesterday, terming it "unconscionable" for Congress to fail to help states avert these layoffs. I couldn't agree more.
Over the past two years, because of the historic, recession-induced drop-off in state and local tax revenues, school districts and other local educational employers have already cut 100,000 education jobs. That's bad for children and for the economy. With at least 30 states and Washington, DC, cutting aid to K-12 schools and education programs, states' reform initiatives to improve their schools are at serious risk. Those cuts also slow the economy by reducing overall demand.
Congress can help states avoid further cuts by extending the pieces of last year's Recovery Act that gave states additional funding for education and Medicaid. The Medicaid funds, which the House abruptly dropped from the jobs bill it passed last week, free up state funds for education and other priorities by helping cover states' health care costs. (I discussed this previously here and here).
Broder's right that Congress also needs to pay attention to our dangerous long-term deficits. But as my colleague Paul Van de Water explained recently, measures like state fiscal assistance wouldn't add significantly to long-term deficits because their provisions are largely temporary. And by helping states make our schools more effective, federal assistance will strengthen our long-term human capital.
Nicholas Johnson is director of state fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and regularly blogs on the Center's blog, Off the Charts.