Teacher leaders assess Obama’s plan

My colleagues, members of the Teacher Leaders Network, and I have given the President’s jobs plan mixed reviews. Generally, we felt the proposed bill is better than nothing, but not nearly enough. As one teacher put it, “Take the money and run. It will put people to work in the state I love best, and across the country. It will make cleaner and safer schools for kids and keep some programming alive. It’s too little and too late—but waiting for a better bill is pointless.” Another colleague added, “I find it hard not to support the idea of using federal money to stabilize our teaching corps. It’s good for schools and students, and the money will filter right through into the broader economy.”

For one Florida teacher, it was even more personal:

President Obama’s last stimulus bill saved real people’s jobs including mine.  I think it is important to get that message out.  Although I was a seasoned an award-winning teacher, I transferred from a charter to a public school in 2008.  When it all “hit the fan,” I was first on the “chopping block.” The stimulus bill enabled the school district to avoid laying off any of its 5,000 plus teachers.

More than likely I would have been forced to leave education…. Furthermore, my mortgage was completely upside down, which probably would have led to me walking away from my home. The stimulus saved my job and my home. I continue to positively impact my students and contribute to my community because of this.

Teacher leaders, who tend to be highly attune to education policy at the national and state level, were predictably suspicious of what type of strings might end up being attached to the Federal funds either by the Administration or Congress, or both. Certainly there would and need to be some, but a Vermont educator urged the Feds to “tread lightly.”

There was broader agreement on the urgent need for infrastructure upgrades in public schools across the nation which state and local budgets simply could not provide in the foreseeable future. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s schools a grade of D. That same report declares that “despite increases in spending for school facilities earlier in this decade, the money has disproportionately gone to the nation’s wealthiest school districts while the neediest students continue to endure the most decrepit facilities.”

When we consider the alternatives, my teacher-friend EV best sums it up:

Is a lost youth the answer to a better American tomorrow? If the answer is no, which I trust it is, then the strongest investment we can make is in those who teach the mind as well as the heart and spirit of our nation’s future leaders. Do we create an underclass – as has happened elsewhere in the world – by choosing not to educate all of our children to their utmost ability to participate in a democracy, culture, business world, or pursuits towards happiness?

Cross-posted at National Journal Online–Education Experts