Critics are saying President Obama and Congress went astray in passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They say it is just another boondoggle and waste of money.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pin-gree got it right when they voted for its passage. Collins and Snowe in particular deserve credit for breaking ranks with their party to vote for a bill that will protect our students’ programs and get America back to work.
The Recovery Act is a bridge to the future that allows us to maintain the high quality of education in our schools and preserve learning opportunities for tens of thousands of students.
Due to revenue shortfalls, the Legislature had already cut $27 million from this year’s budget for elementary and secondary schools, $8 million from the University of Maine System, and $2.9 million from the community colleges. And forecasts for the next biennial budget were equally grim with predictions of frozen or eroding budg-ets.
Without this federal money K-12 schools, the University of Maine System, and the Maine Community College System would have been thrown off a financial cliff by an abrupt curtailment in state aid with little recourse but to make devastating budget cuts.
Without this money almost every com-munity in Maine would have faced tough choices between cutbacks in student pro-grams and services or higher property taxes. Without this money, the University of Maine System and community colleges would have had to increase tuition rates making them unaffordable for too many worthy students.
Some pundits criticize the Recovery Act by saying that it creates unrealistic expec-tations and that we will fall off that finan-cial cliff in two years when the funding runs out. Given the choice between falling off that cliff now or two years from now, I will take the two-year reprieve in hopes of better times while continuing to educate the students in our classrooms well and care-fully planning for any necessary budget transition.
The Recovery Act lets us bridge that threatening chasm and get to the other side of this economic setback while maintaining vital programs and services that our stu-dents need to prepare themselves for their future.
It provides federal aid that helps sustain general purpose aid to K-12 schools and avoid planned cuts in programs, it helps restore funding for higher education, and it directs aid to those students in greatest need through increased support for Special Education and Title I.
The primary purpose of the Recovery Act is to stem the tide of the recession by preserving and creating jobs. By investing in education, hundreds of middle class jobs will be saved, allowing educators and their families to spend money in their communi-ties all across the state so that every region receives an economic stimulus instead of an economic shock.
The Recovery Act provides Maine with the precious gift of time to plan for greater efficiencies in our schools, to make the transition to the new regional school units, to adjust school programs and budgets to meet the new economic realities, to look for savings in our system of higher educa-tion and, hopefully, to allow time for an
Over the next two years, the federal government is providing a safety net for our students so that Mainers may carefully consider the level of commitment they can make to public education and marshal the resources needed to fulfill their promise to the next generation for a better, more prosperous Maine.
Let’s recognize the Recovery Act as a gift and spend it wisely.
Mark L. Gray is executive director of the Maine Education Association.