You may remember that Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, just released a bill aimed at helping states and districts avert a tidal wave of layoffs and programmatic cuts.
Education advocates are eager to see passage of the bill, which would include $23 billion in new state stabilization dollars. The U.S. House of Representatives has already approved similar legislation. Rumor has it the Senate bill could hitch a ride on an emergency spending measure aimed at military spending.
But folks have some ideas for changes that they say would keep more teachers employed.
For instance, the Education Trust today released a statement saying the bill should encourage districts to move away from seniority-based teacher layoffs that don’t take teacher effectiveness into account.
The organization cites a report released last year by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, at the University of Washington, in Seattle. It shows that more people lose their jobs than necessary under a seniority based system, in part because the newest teachers are usually the lowest-paid. As a result, a district must lay off more of those newer teachers in order to achieve the same cost savings that it might get by laying off more-experienced teachers who earn higher pay, even if they aren’t as effective.
Of course, the organization isn’t advocating for laying off only the most experienced educators, but it does say that it would like to see effectiveness, not just seniority, taken into account, as a condition of states receiving the new stabilization dollars. That way states and districts can get the most bang for their buck.
Ed Trust is also worried that the bill may contain a major loophole when it comes to ensuring that the money is spent on retaining or hiring educators. With the last round of stimulus funding, some states sought to use the money for their rainy day funds, while continuing to lay teachers off. The Harkin bill says that states can’t use the money to replenish their rainy day funds with this new round of funding, unless they have a balanced budget requirement.
But Ed Trust points out that this is sort of toothless, since every state except Vermont does, in fact, have a balanced budget requirement. So the language may be good news for Green Mountain State teachers, but it could be a problem for those in the rest of the country.
And the American Association of School Administrators says the bill needs stronger language to ensure that states can’t play shell games with the money (by cutting education, diverting the funds, and then using stimulus dollars to backfill).
In a letter to Harkin, the group says it would like to see “specific controls against using federal dollars to supplant state efforts in education.” Otherwise, the group is worried states may have trouble finding the money to fund education programs once the stimulus dollars dissipate.