Uphill Battle on School Facilities and Teacher Jobs

Even though the American Jobs Act was voted down in the Senate last week, portions of the bill have been broken up into derivative pieces that are currently moving through Senate. On one end, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)demonstrated critical leadership on the school facilities front by introducing the FAST Act of 2011. The bill provides assistance for the modernization, renovation, and repair of public school buildings and community colleges across the nation. The bill emerges at a crucial time as states and school districts continue to feel the impact of the economic crisis, forcing schools to endure budget cutbacks, preventing districts from addressing the school maintenance and repair backlog, and from making energy conservation and efficiency improvements. According to the Government Accountability Office and the American Society of Civil Engineers, school districts have been under-spending on maintenance and repair for many years. Conservative estimates indicate that the accumulated backlog of deferred maintenance and repair amount to at least $270 billion. By proposing $25 billion to modernize infrastructure of thousands of schools, not only does it create jobs but it also upgrades classrooms in order to meet the educational needs of our students.

On a second front, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Teacher and First Responder Back to Work Act, which provides funding ($30 billion) to help prevent teacher layoffs and create or save additional jobs (almost 400,000) in public early childhood, elementary, and secondary education, including school counselors, school social workers, paraprofessionals and librarians. Aside from the professionals who work in early education and K-12 school settings, the next group of people to feel the immediate sting of decrepit learning facilities, over-crowded classrooms and the elimination of integrated services, is our students.

The First Focus Campaign for Children is actively involved in supporting both measures as a sorely needed one-two punch: immediate job creation during a struggling economy while also improving educational outcomes for our students so they may become college and career ready. Nevertheless, both measures appear to face an incredible uphill battle – unfortunately, obtaining the 60 votes needed on either measure might not be possible. In fact, it has already proven difficult to have every Senate Democrat on board for both bills - last night the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the Menendez bill by a vote of 50-50 (with two Dems voting with the Republicans).

When do we finally give the American public and our students a break during such challenging times? Shouldn’t we loosen our belt to assist American households that continue to tighten theirs? Measures such as these should have been passed months ago yet “cuts” continues to be the buzz-word of the year. This is the context that defines the political environment on Capitol Hill with fewer and fewer congressional members willing to put themselves out there for the needs of our children, youth and families. Given all this, we applaud the efforts of Senator Brown and Senator Menendez for going out on a limb and doing something that provides a huge benefit to our students, teachers and schools - so helpful but apparently unpopular.


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