Clawing Back from the Brink
Federal stimulus buffers worst fiscal crisis on record
PATRICIA PULEO KNOWS the difference between bad and worse. The Yonkers (N.Y.) Federation of Teachers president and high school art teacher remembers the situation five years ago, when a budget stalemate cost her district 320 teachers.
"It was warehousing, classes of 58 students, classrooms turned into holding pens," she says. The 2004 budget crisis rendered Yonkers schools "unproductive, non-educational and borderline dangerous."
A few weeks ago, Yonkers was braced for a return to catastrophic conditions. "We were looking at 300 to 400 teachers being laid off ... a deficit of $49 million, and there was no way we were going to fill that hole," says Puleo.
That nightmare scenario did not play out, thanks in large measure to help Yonkers will receive through the Amer- ican Recovery and Reinvest- ment Act (ARRA), the federal stimulus program that has given recession-battered states a modicum of breathing room. The $100 billion ear- marked for education under ARRA has helped trim layoffs by at least two-thirds in Yonkers schools and provided dollars to help keep vital services afloat.
There still will be significant pain- the district will lose 2 1 badly needed special education teachers, along with reading, music and art, says Puleo, who was one of those "excessed" from her position at Roosevelt High School.
But stimulus funding has at least given the school system a fighting chance and pulled it back from the brink For now.
Worst on record
Second only to scarce dollars, the one thing districts are in short supply of these days is a frame of reference. For most, the pain caused by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression simply has no rival.
One study suggests that almost 600,000 education jobs are at risk and states, which provide the lifeline of support to many nonaffluent school districts, are dealing with the steepest revenue drop since quarterly records first were tabulated almost 50 years ago. ARRA funding has provided a buffer-though certainly not a fix- to the maelstrom of state budget cuts. "K- 12 education would have been the primary area affected by [state] reductions, but ARRA funding stalled that development," the National Council of State Legislatures reported in July.
ARRA funds have certainly been at work in Alabama, a state that was looking at a 12 percent reduction in education spending a few months ago. ARRA provided the funds that prevented year- over-year revenue declines, and the AFT's state affiliates have worked hard to keep resources focused on schools.
The Jefferson County American Federation of Teachers met with federal, state and local lawmakers to protect schools from what originally was projected to be a loss of 4,700 teachers and thousands of support workers across the state this year. Working through the AFT's Fight for America's Future campaign, the affiliates fought back successfully against pink slips and restored funds for teaching supplies.
Fight for America's Future helped to win the biggest single federal investment in public education since the Great Society programs of the 1960s. Today, AFT affiliate members have been redoubling their efforts- attacking unnecessary bottlenecks in ARRA deployment, calling out state and local officials who attach arbitrary rules to stimulus resources, and battling policymakers who try to game the system by diverting relief into state reserves or bankrolling tax cuts with the money.
The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals fought successfully to keep ARRA funds focused at a time when the state was seeking a federal waiver that essentially would have plowed the additional resources into tax …
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Publication information: Article title: Clawing Back from the Brink. Contributors: Not available. Magazine title: American Teacher. Volume: 94. Issue: 1 Publication date: September 2009. Page number: 9+. © American Federation of Teachers Feb 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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