Every once in a while, an issue arises that makes it perfectly clear, as the slogan goes: "Who's for kids and who's just kidding?" Saving 140,000 education jobs in public schools around the country is that kind of issue.
For the record, in this case at least, Democrats are for kids and Republicans are just kidding.
The issue is saving the jobs of about 140,000 public school teachers and other school staff. State and local government budgets have been hammered by the recession and face a total shortfall of more than $100 billion in the coming fiscal year, according to a report by Goldman Sachs. The governments are faced with cutting services and laying off hundreds of thousands of employees, including as many as 250,000 teachers.
To prevent catastrophic cuts last year, Congress passed the Recovery Act, which sent $150 billion in aid to the states. Some schools were forced to cut back to four-day school weeks and increase class sizes, but by and large, the Recovery Act worked. Very few schools were forced to lay off large numbers of teachers. This year, Democrats in Congress has been trying for months to add $25 billion more in aid to public schools, but Republicans have blocked them at every turn.
Finally, yesterday and today, the Senate took votes to approve a smaller package: $10 billion, enough to prevent 140,000 layoffs. The vote was 61-39, and only two Republican senators voted to save the jobs. They also provided the states with $16 billion in Medicaid funds, which will save another 158,000 job
Republicans in the House are apparently no more interested in saving jobs than their Senate counterparts. When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that she will interrupt the House's August recess in order to hold a special session to pass the state aid bill, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) attacked Pelosi's decision. Ignoring the effects on students of saving their teachers' jobs, Boehner called the funding a "payoff to union bosses and liberal special interests."
The Department of Education tells us that 5,000 teaching jobs in Boehner's home state of Ohio will be preserved by the funding, but he has made it clear that he is not interested. To him, teachers are a "liberal special interest" and he would rather see them lose their jobs than let the Bush tax cuts expire.
Most of us believe that education is the key to America's economic future. We jeopardize that future if we shortchange today's children-- jamming them into overcrowded classrooms, cutting the school week to four days, laying off young, enthusiastic teachers and forcing them to look elsewhere for work.
The cost of the state aid was offset by closing business tax loopholes and cutting other social programs. So there is no basis for complaining about deficit spending or "saddling our children with debt." In any event, saddling them with an inferior education would be worse.