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Do Teachers Need a Bailout?

Charles Lane, the journalist best known as Stephen Glass' editor at The New Republic, examines whether or not we actually need the so-called "teacher bailout"—a $23 billion stimulus proposed by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and attached to a military spending bill. According to Lane, reports of 300,000 teacher layoffs nationwide may be greatly exaggerated.

Lane notes that it's standard protocol in the education sector for school systems to give springtime layoff notices to anyone who could possibly be let go of in the near future, thus creating an overestimate of what the actual number will be. It could be as low as 100,000 (of more than 3 million teachers nationwide). In addition, he writes, the estimates include many non-teaching jobs, such as custodians, bus drivers, and other support staff.

In last year's stimulus, teachers and other school staff benefited from a $100 billion, which, at the time, was needed to stave off layoffs. Meanwhile, as Lane notes, nearly all the other sectors took serious employment hits, and it may be education's turn to trim some fat. Elsewhere I've read that No Child Left Behind caused the addition of support staff to help raise test scores; the current threat of layoffs may just force a move back to a stable equilibrium.

As Lane writes in The Washington Post:

There are alternatives. If the administration wants to promote jobs, it could spend the $23 billion on extending unemployment benefits or building infrastructure or small-business loans. If it wants to keep teachers on the job, it could support mayors -- such as Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, a Democrat -- and governors such as Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican -- who are calling on teachers and other unionized public employees to make reasonable sacrifices to avoid layoffs.


It's never a popular stance to argue against the employment of teachers, but aren't we in a position where we need to examine wastefulness in our school systems, like Kansas City (among other cities) has done? And, if staff isn't benefiting student success, shouldn't we have the guts to make tough decisions?

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