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No Teacher Left Behind

Story by Chris Graham

We’ve bailed out Wall Street. Maybe we could term this one the bailout of Sesame Street.

“We all have to remember that the federal government came to the aid of Wall Street quickly because they saw the need. We just ask that they would do the same for our children and for public education,” said Jeion Ward, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Hampton and a former middle-school teacher, talking about the stalled effort in Congress to provide additional stimulus funding to states and localities to help them balance their public-school budgets.

A report released today by the National Education Association suggests that more than 8,000 teaching jobs could be on the line this year in Virginia alone, meaning that what we’ve been seeing locally with hiring freezings and layoffs is something that’s being felt statewide and nationwide.

The House of Representatives passed legislation adding another year to the education stimulus included in last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The newly-christened Education Jobs Fund has not been acted on in the Senate as of yet.

A conference call arranged by a broad coalition of supporters in the education field today is meant to bring media and public attention to the effort in time for monies to get back to localities in the throes of their budget seasons.

“It’s not just for our children, but for our communities,” said Karen Schultz, a professor at Shenandoah University and a former Winchester School Board president.

“We see the amount of money that the federal government has put into other areas. I hope that the public will look at this bill and also encourage Sen. Warner and Sen. Webb to look into this more fully. “This is a very necessary investment in our economy, in our children and in our communities,” Schultz said.

The stimulus funds helped Roanoke County Schools Superintendent Lorraine Lange keep 80 teaching positions in her budget in the current budget year. But with 85 percent of her budget being personnel, “layoffs are inevitable,” said Lange, “because at this point there’s nowhere else to go but teachers” to cut spending further.

“I believe that the U.S. economy will eventually bounce back. It happens. It’s cyclical. But the Education Jobs Fund will help fill the gap and save jobs. When educators get laid off today, they’re not going to find another job. And unemployment will continue to rise,” Lange said.

So there’s obvious immediate economic and social impact from education cuts. The bottom line, though, is on the kids.

“This is not our children’s fault,” Ward said. “They had nothing to do with this. And they should not be the ones that have to pay for these larger classroom sizes, not being able to have that attention from the teachers that they need.

“They only get one chance to be in third grade or fourth grade. We’ve got to make the most of this time by making sure that they have what they need,” Ward said.

augusta free press
augusta free press