08/10/2010

In a Big Victory for Students, Congress Passes Jobs Bill

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Members of the U.S. House of Representatives interrupted their summer recess for a special one-day session on Aug. 10 to pass a $26 billion funding package that will save thousands of educators' jobs and help states maintain vital public services. The 247-161 vote in the House, along with last week's vote in the Senate, is "the ultimate indication of who's for kids and who isn't," says AFT president Randi Weingarten.

"Every vote for this bill helps ensure that vital educational services will be available to kids, who deserve the very best chance to prepare them for the knowledge economy," Weingarten says. "While it's too late to restore summer school, the funding will arrive just in time to help reinstate laid-off educators, reverse cuts to Advanced Placement and other classes, reopen school libraries and end furloughs. It is now imperative that states and school districts use the money as the bill intends, so that it's spent wisely and where it's needed most."

Following the vote, the AFT sent a message to activists urging them to thank their legislators who stood up for students and adequate funding for public services, and to express their disappointment with those who voted against the bill. In addition, the AFT is running ads in 17 newspapers, as well as targeted Facebook ads, to thank various members of Congress for their support.

The legislation includes $10 billion for education jobs, which will avert the layoff of more than an estimated 160,000 teachers, and $16 billion for Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP). Without this additional FMAP assistance, many states would be forced to make severe cuts to healthcare and other public services as well as jobs.

"Acknowledging that you can't 'race to the top' if the bottom is falling out, the House and Senate leadership demonstrated great skill and tenacity in guiding this lifeline for kids to the president's desk," Weingarten says. "Students in classrooms across America will start the 2010-2011 school year in a much better place because of the efforts of these legislators.

Randi with teachers in DC for jobs bill vote  "I watched this historic vote from the House gallery with two amazing teachers who received pink slips earlier this year—Amanda Van Ness from Toledo, Ohio; and Loris Welch from Perth Amboy, N.J. Ms. Welch (pictured at far right, with Weingarten and Van Ness) just learned she has been recalled due to retirements and attrition but is anxiously hoping other laid-off colleagues, as well as Ms. Van Ness, will benefit from the funding."

Earlier in the day, Weingarten appeared on "The Daily Rundown" on MSNBC to make the case for the funding legislation.

President Obama also spoke in the White House Rose Garden, along with two teachers, about the need to preserve education jobs. The president urged members of Congress to overcome partisanship in supporting the bill.

"I heard the Republican Leader in the House say the other day that this is a special interest bill," Obama said. "And I suppose if America's children and the safety of our communities are your special interests, then it is a special interest bill. But I think those interests are widely shared throughout this country—a challenge that affects parents, children and citizens in almost every community in America should not be a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. It is an American problem." [Dan Gursky, AFT press release]