National battle for teacher funding continues… Pittsburgh should not have to lay off teachers

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With state budget decisions looming, many are worried what effect the ever present recession will have on education funding.

In May, President Barack Obama’s administration began struggling to push through legislation that would provide $23 billion in emergency support to preserve education jobs. The bill is aimed at helping more than 100,000 teachers who have been laid off across the country.

GraduatingClass
GRADUATING CLASS OF OLIVER HIGH SCHOOL—As teachers are laid off across the country, who will be left to lead tomorrow’s graduates?

“It is crucial that we keep our teachers in the classroom,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Our teachers are vital to our students’ success, our economy’s success and our nation’s success. We must act now to prevent teachers from being laid off and ensure that America’s students have the knowledge and skills to succeed in the 21st century.”

According to provisional estimates by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, this funding would support the jobs of approximately 300,000 educators, including approximately 11,680 in Pennsylvania. However, there are no projections as to how many Pittsburgh teachers will be affected.

“As state lawmakers and school districts across the country are finalizing their budgets for the coming year, we must act quickly and responsibly to offer the assistance they need—to keep our teachers teaching, keep our students learning, and keep our economy growing.” Duncan said. “Investing in education now will help tens of millions of students become more productive citizens and positively affect America’s long-term fiscal health.”

Since May, the debate has centered around where the money would come from to fund the legislation, with Obama refusing to redirect anything from his other education initiatives. Others have questioned whether teachers unions should be working harder to come to fairer compromises that do not cripple their school districts.

In Milwaukee last month, the school board announced it would have to lay off 428 teachers. However, a budget analysis by the school district determined these and more jobs would be saved if health benefits were slightly reduced to require co-pays for doctor visits. The area teachers union declined this adjustment and the teachers lost their jobs.

As the battle continues nationally, conditions aren’t as dire locally. The Pittsburgh Public School District has not predicted significant layoffs and in mid-June they signed a five-year contract with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

“This agreement discredits the belief that school districts and teacher unions can’t work together around education reform,” said Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. “Our teachers have strongly affirmed the direction the PFT leadership has taken. They have chosen to lead the transformation of public education across the country.”

Still, Deputy Superintendent Linda Lane said the district could always use extra support from the federal government to ensure teacher quality in its schools.

“If it manages to survive the congressional process, like any other district we certainly appreciate any federal help we get,” Lane said. “We have some schools that don’t have as much as we would like. There are some schools where if you ask the principals they would say we don’t have as much as we would like.”

In light of population decline in certain areas of the city, Lane said it is sometimes difficult to ensure every school is provided the same level of resources and opportunities.

“One of the biggest issues in our district is declining enrollment. When you’re in decline we’ve had concerns expressed to us, about programs such as art, music and physical education,” Lane said. “Another problem is unbalanced enrollment, so you end up with class sizes that are sometimes large. Funding could be used to help with that. If there would be some release out there, from the federal government, that would be helpful to us.”

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