By Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education - 05/18/10 09:19 PM EDT
President Obama took office last year in the middle of a full-blown economic crisis. We’re starting to see signs of the economy recovering from that severe recession, which cost more than 8 million jobs and wiped out trillions of dollars in household and family wealth. With four consecutive months of job growth, we are seeing the strongest signs of healing in the economy since President Obama took office.
But the financial foundation of our nation’s public schools remains shaky. Spending by state and local governments, which provide approximately 90 percent of K-12 budgets, continues to decline. In the first quarter alone, spending by state and local government fell by 4 percent. Various estimates suggest that nationwide from 100,000 to 300,000 education jobs are at risk for the coming school year.
In addition to potentially laying off educators, states and districts are cutting programs that are vital for the success of students. They’re canceling or scaling back summer school, early learning and after-school programs. Colleges are laying off instructors. Some school districts are going to four-day weeks. School counselors, nurses, and librarians are also at risk as are extracurricular activities, music programs, and sports.
Enrichment programs like these can be the difference for some students, motivating them to attend school instead of dropping out or helping struggling students catch up. At precisely the time when our students need to be learning more, they will be learning less. At precisely the time when our students need a broader education, the variety of academic offerings is shrinking. In short, the cuts facing our schools endanger our efforts to provide American students with a world-class education.
As a former 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 but also to allow reform to move forward.
These job losses would be a drag on the overall economy at a time when we’re seeing promising employment reports. Keeping America’s educators working will help sustain the economic recovery and will sustain momentum for school reforms.
President Obama and I are committed to reforming schools so they can prepare students to succeed in college and careers, but we can’t reform our schools if they don’t have a firm financial foundation. Jobs and reform go hand-in-hand, as they did with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.