The $23 billion "Keep Our Educators Working Act" is no Edujobs Bill

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Publication date: 
April 28 2010

WASHINGTON (April 28, 2010) – A recent survey by the American Association of School Administrators  finds school leaders across the country bracing for cuts in the upcoming school year that are likely far deeper than those made during the past two. In fact, 90 percent of school administrators across the United States are expecting to slash their budgets—mainly by laying off teachers.

Federal help is needed and needed urgently.

But in our rush to “do something” to avert job losses, Congress must ensure that our vehicle for action doesn’t stall at the outset. Without two key changes, the recently introduced $23 billion “Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010” (Edujobs) will leave far too many educators and students stranded on the road to economic recovery.

  • Edujobs should help state and district leaders put an end to “last-hired, first-fired” policies, which exacerbate the number of people who lose their jobs during layoffs.
  • Congress must close a loophole in the bill that would allow virtually every state to shift federal funds to their general budgets, rather than actually save the teacher jobs for which the money is intended.

Most school districts employ a mechanical last-hired, first-fired approach to layoffs. As a result, new teachers are always the first to go, regardless of how well they may do their jobs. But according to a 2009 report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington (CRPE), such policies actually result in far more people losing their jobs than otherwise might be necessary.   

Teachers’ salaries increase with longevity. That means that when school districts are forced to focus solely on teachers with the fewest years of experience—the ones who are paid the least—administrators have to eliminate more jobs to achieve the same dollar savings. In many districts, that can mean pushing out energetic veterans who have worked for four, five, or even six years.

The CRPE report illustrates this point. Using the seniority-based layoff policies now in effect in most districts, roughly 875,000 public school jobs would be lost nationally if districts had to reduce their salary expenditures by 10 percent. Nearly a quarter-million of those lost jobs could be saved by using seniority-neutral policies that take into account employee effectiveness. Of those who would have remained employed, about 125,000 would be classroom teachers.

To ensure the Edujobs bill minimizes teacher layoffs, Congress should join the growing consensus among state governments, district leaders, and the American people by requiring states receiving these new education bailout funds to abandon seniority-based layoff practices. 

But that alone won’t be enough to ensure that this bill has the desired effect.

The Keep Our Educators Working Act makes clear that the available funds are to be used only to retain existing school employees and hire new ones. In fact, the bill contains a lengthy prohibition against the use of its funds to restore, supplement, or establish a state reserve or rainy-day fund—that is, unless the state has a requirement to maintain a balanced budget. All states, with the exception of Vermont, have such a requirement. So Vermont would be the only state required to spend its portion of the $23 billion to keep educators on the job. The remaining 49 states would be able to use the federal funds to fortify state coffers, even as they lay off thousands of teachers. 

It’s critical for the federal government to act on behalf of the millions of educators and students in America’s public schools. But as currently written, Edujobs won’t maximize the number of teacher jobs saved and could—in the end—be little more than TARP for state budgets. The bill can and should be recast to ensure that Congress really does invest in our children, our schools, and our collective future.

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