Educators call for school funding as key stimulus ingredient

The American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and American Association of School Administrators are urging Congress and President-elect Obama to ensure education funding is part of the 2009 stimulus package.

“Even in these tough economic times, it is imperative to invest, not disinvest, in education for the long-term health of our economy,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. In a detailed letter to members of Congress, Weingarten laid out the AFT’s priorities: fiscal relief for the states, investment in infrastructure, increased college access and a $3 billion fund for school districts to pay for activities already authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act. The No Child Left Behind Act has been called an unfunded mandate. Even part of the funding authorized by Congress was never received by the states or school districts.

NEA President Dennis Van Roeke told the House Ways and Means Committee that investing $20 billion in school repair and maintenance over five years would support 50,000 jobs. And, “when we build or modernize schools, we’re investing in our children’s future,” Van Roeke said.

There is widespread agreement that Obama’s school modernization program, if it receives enough funding, could jump-start student achievement. Studies in New York, Houston and North Dakota found that improving school and classroom environment raised reading and math scores and also improved the health of students. Mold prevention can decrease asthma, the number-one chronic illness that causes students to miss school.

And many schools in the U.S. do not have the electrical wiring to support Internet access. Obama has promised to give every student access to the Internet.

The president-elect has urged congressional leaders to move quickly to pass an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan designed to create 3 million jobs. His aides say the cost could be $775 billion. A large portion is expected go toward infrastructure projects — road and bridge repairs, water projects and school repairs and modernization. But educators are concerned about how much funding will be appropriated for schools.

The American Association of School Administrators is joining the unions in requesting money for infrastructure, but it has also requested a one-time grant to school districts to address budget shortfalls in order to prevent schools from cutting staff positions and eliminating educational programs. Twenty states are cutting K-12 and early childhood education due to budget cuts. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Maine have cut education funding by at lease $95 per student.

Mary Kusler, lobbyist for the school administrators group, says school districts have been making cuts for several years and are past the point of making additional cuts.

Five Democratic governors (Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Ohio) are calling for $200 billion for education because of the large deficits faced by the states.

In addition, college and university leaders are calling for Congress to dedicate 5 percent of the stimulus funds to states for renovation and construction of higher education facilities. They published full-page ads in The New York Times and Washington Post supporting their request.

Student advocate groups are calling for an increase in Pell grants for low-income students, raising the maximum to $7,000 from the current $4,731.