AFT Members Join Obama and Biden to Promote Jobs Act

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A laid-off teacher introduced President Obama in Mesquite, Texas, and the leaders of the United School Employees of Pasco joined Vice President Joe Biden in Florida, both on Oct. 4, to highlight the urgent need for Congress to pass the American Jobs Act to stem the tide of teacher layoffs and disinvestment in public schools.

Kimberly Russell with President Obama. Photo by Pete Souza/White House.President Barack Obama meets Kimberly Russell at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Tex. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

At Eastfield College in Mesquite, Obama was introduced by Kimberly Russell, a Dallas high school social studies teacher who began her career as a substitute teacher, then completed Dallas' alternative certification program to begin a second career as a teacher. For three years, her salary was paid through federal stimulus funds, and she lost her job when those funds ran out.

"Teachers like Kim are why I came here today. Teachers like Kim and her former students," Obama said. "There are teachers and educators like Kim all over the country. I met a first-grade teacher from Minnesota at the White House who was laid off after having been named the Teacher of the Year in her school district. Her peers, students, determined she was the best teacher in her school district—she got laid off.

"There's a teacher over in Grand Prairie, Texas, who actually chose to resign in order to protect the job of a single mom who also taught at the school. Think about that. Here in Dallas, all across the state of Texas, you've seen too many teachers lose their jobs because of budget cuts. And thousands more could be at risk in the coming year."

AFT president Randi Weingarten says that Russell's story is troubling because her students need her in the classroom, not on the unemployment line. "The jobs bill could return Russell to the classroom where she belongs, and would prevent more layoffs and further erosion of our public education system."

Russell was featured in many media reports, including the Dallas Morning News, and she also appeared on the "Ed Schultz Show" on MSNBC.

members in Texas to support jobs act
Dallas Alliance-AFT members join Texas state representative Roberto Alonzo at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Tex. Photo courtesy Alliance-AFT.

In Florida, Biden visited Oakstead Elementary School in Land O' Lakes to meet with community members and educators in Pasco County. He discussed the impact teacher layoffs and budget cuts have on the quality of education for middle-class families and on kids' prospects for competing in the future. The Pasco County school district has eliminated 513 positions for the 2011-2012 school year—including eight out of Oakstead's 83 teachers—which will mean larger class sizes at area schools. (Read more about Biden's visit in this news report.)

In conjunction with Obama's visit to Texas, the White House released a new report that outlines the devastating impact the recession has had on schools and students across the country. "Teacher Jobs at Risk" highlights the significant cuts in education spending that have resulted from state budget shortfalls since 2008, including the loss of nearly 300,000 teaching jobs across the country. (Read more about Obama's visit on the White House blog.)

The American Jobs Act would prevent the layoff of 280,000 educators and create tens of thousands of jobs in education. The bill also would provide funding for the modernization of 35,000 schools nationwide to fix crumbling school infrastructure while creating thousands of construction jobs. (Read more about the jobs act on the AFT website.)

"Every day that passes means more unemployed teachers and other workers, continued health and safety hazards at schools, and less hope for our country's future," says Weingarten. "Majority Leader Eric Cantor should immediately bring the American Jobs Act to the House floor for a vote. The American people want Congress to stop playing politics as usual and do what's right for our kids and their future." [AFT press release, the White House. Dan Gursky]

October 4, 2011