One of the many devastating results of the Great Recession has been the damage wrought on state budgets, which have led to dramatic cuts in education, including plenty of teacher layoffs. Part of this pain was alleviated by the economic stimulus package passed last year, but the depth and length of the recession means that many states are still in very bad shape.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has crafted a $23 billion bill meant to help states avoid making mass teacher layoffs, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised will reach the floor sometime. “We will be pushing hard for this in the Senate,” Harkin said.
Thus far, Harkin has received no Republican support for his effort. When National Journal asked Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) if he would back the bill, he scoffed that he “couldn’t imagine” a situation in which he would give a bill preventing teacher layoffs his blessing:
Another GOP member, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said he hadn’t seen the bill but “couldn’t imagine” he would support it, positing that it’s not the role of the federal government to hire teachers.
Burr might want to spend some time imagining what teacher layoffs in his own state would look like. There are currently 3,700 fewer teachers working in North Carolina than there were last year, and cuts for the next school year “will be even worse.” “We are doing things and considering options I never thought I’d have to consider,” said Peter Gorman, superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, who is looking at cutting 600 teachers (and a total of more than 1,000 employees) for next year.
And many school districts are in far worse shape, which could have the net result of hundreds of thousands of layoffs across the country. As the New York Times reported, “Illinois authorities are predicting 17,000 job cuts in the public schools. And New York has warned nearly 15,000 teachers that their jobs could disappear in June.”
Leaving aside the detrimental effect these layoffs will on schoolchildren, preserving these jobs acts as economic stimulus, because instead of going on unemployment benefits, these teachers and other employees keep collecting a paycheck, spending money, and boosting demand. But Burr can’t find it in his head to imagine a situation in which that might be a good thing.