April 23, 2018
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US Senate bill would keep Maine educators working

By Arne Duncan, Special to the BDN

Our country’s economy is showing signs of recovery. We’ve gone from losing three-quarters of a million jobs a month to adding jobs every month. Just last week, the White House reported that the economy grew for the fourth straight quarter.

But our nation’s schools are still facing a financial crisis, probably the worst since the Great Depression. When the school year begins this fall, hundreds of thousands of teachers won’t be returning to the classroom. School counselors, nurses and librarians also have been laid off and won’t be returning this fall.

In addition to laying off educators who make a difference every day, states and districts are cutting programs that are vital for the success of students. They’re scaling back early learning and after-school programs. They’re reducing their commitments to extracurricular activities, arts programs and sports. Some school districts are going to four-day weeks.

Today, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on an amendment that will prevent these layoffs and program cutbacks. The amendment includes $10 billion to protect the jobs of teachers and other educators in Maine and across the country.

In Maine alone, we estimate that this amendment would save the jobs of 700 educators.

This money will go a long way toward protecting the jobs of teachers and other educators. It’s the right thing to do for teachers, students, and for the economy.

In large cities and small towns, Maine school officials have faced difficult decisions preparing for the next school year.

In Rockland, the school district faces the elimination of 30 jobs, as well as cuts to extracurricular activities such as cheerleading and sports.

Across the five schools of SAD 27, 17 educators are slated to lose their jobs.

In Winslow, the town considered not replacing four retiring teachers and laying off four more, as well as eliminating the jobs of an education technology specialist and a custodian.

These are choices that voters shouldn’t have to make.

These decisions create hardships for educators who lose their jobs, and the damage ripples through the economy as a whole. The loss of wages puts teachers’ homes at risk and takes away dollars that otherwise would be spent in local businesses and in the broader economy.

Ultimately, educators’ job losses would make it difficult to sustain our positive economic momentum.

But more important, the loss of teachers’ jobs will hurt the education of our children. In larger classes, struggling students may not receive the individual attention they need to stay on track.

The enrichment programs and support services at risk can be the difference for some students. Without these programs, students could lose their motivation to attend school and run the risk of dropping out.

As a former school superintendent in Chicago, I know how difficult it is to create a budget in normal budget times, let alone times like this. I encourage administrators to do everything possible to avoid classroom cuts and look for ways to be more efficient and productive — both to protect students and to allow reform to move forward.

We all know that schools can be more efficient, and they must look for ways to do so. But the current financial crisis facing schools is too large to be solved through short-term efficiencies alone.

Our schools need the support of our federal government — to help our students and our economy.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. secretary of education.

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