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AFT, NEA Back Economic Stimulus

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The presidents of both national teachers’ unions told a House panel last week that investing in school facilities could help put the economy on a firmer footing.

The Oct. 29 hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee explored whether Congress should enact a new economic-stimulus package during a possible lame-duck session after the election. The legislation could include aid for states and localities, such as money for highway infrastructure, school construction, and other projects designed to spur the sputtering economy.

Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, argued that steering money toward education would help the nation emerge from the economic downturn and ultimately enable the next generation of Americans to compete in the global economy.

“Some may think it’s odd for the presidents of both teachers’ unions to be at a hearing on economic stimulus,” said Ms. Weingarten, who leads the 1.4 million-member AFT. “The simple fact is this: education and the economy are intertwined,” she said. “Neither is strong when the other is weak. … When the economy is weak and governments make spending cuts, they all too often occur in K-16 programs.”

Mr. Van Roekel, the head of the 3.2 million-member NEA, said investing $20 billion over the next five years would support about 50,000 jobs annually, while also improving the learning environment for students.

Other witnesses on the panel included governors and other state officials, such as Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, a Democrat, and Douglas Palmer, the Democratic mayor of Trenton, N.J. Most favored a stimulus package that would include some aid to states and municipalities.

But Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a Republican, argued that the spending package would add to the federal deficit. “We’re talking about borrowing more money from our kids and grandkids,” he said. “I think there’s some irony in borrowing more to deal with a problem that was ultimately created by excessive borrowing.”

Vol. 28, Issue 11, Page 15

Published in Print: November 5, 2008, as AFT, NEA Back Economic Stimulus
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