Congress Weighs Stimulus for Schools
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
Budget constraints are forcing many state lawmakers to consider deep cuts to K-12 education, prompting warnings from the Obama administration that teacher layoffs could exceed 100,000 if Congress doesn't offer help.
Investor's Business Daily reported that Congress is considering taxing Wall Street as part of the financial regulatory overhaul now being debated and steering some of the revenue toward a fresh round of stimulus for the states, in the form of assistance for schools.
The Senate "is unlikely to find the votes to deficit-finance another dose of funds for schools, even amid warning that state budget crises will trigger widespread teacher layoffs," the paper said, citing a 100,000 layoffs figure provided by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "The most likely funding sources appear to be proposed tax hikes on hedge funds and large financial institutions."
K-12 education already has been propped up by the initial federal stimulus package, and governors and state lawmakers generally are loath to cut funding for public schools. But in some states, deep cuts are on the table and seem unavoidable heading into the fiscal year that begins for most states July 1.
Nowhere has the battle been more pitched than in New Jersey, where voters today (April 20) will decide local school budgets that are set to be hit by an $800 million cut in state assistance under the budget proposed by Governor Chris Christie, a Republican. The loss of state help means that hundreds of localities are considering raising property taxes even as they slash popular programs, The New York Times reported .
"In many of these districts, the (school) budgets will be cut or remain flat even with the tax increases," the paper said.
In Oklahoma, lawmakers are considering K-12 education cuts of 10 percent, which could result in 5,000 teacher layoffs, a state legislative committee was told on Monday, according to The Oklahoman newspaper. The proposed cuts are the result of state revenues coming in 23 percent below expectations.
In both New Jersey and Oklahoma, critics say that warnings of teacher layoffs are scare tactics and that other concessions could be wrought to avoid them. Christie, for example, has argued that the teachers' union could avoid mass layoffs simply by foregoing scheduled pay raises. Ahead of today's vote, he has called on voters to reject local school budgets in districts where teachers have refused to give up pay raises.