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Education to get $55 billion boost in Obama’s jobs plan

Within president Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill he announced Thursday in an address to a joint session of Congress, some $55 billion would go directly to K-12 educators and renovations to nearly 35,000 schools.

The speech has won plaudits from labor groups and most of the Democratic base for its extension of unemployment insurance benefits and direct jobs training and hiring subsidies for employers, while the package of household and business tax cuts has piqued the Republican Party’s interest as well.

Among the direct jobs spending the president called for, $30 billion would be spent on retaining 280,000 teachers as a counter-cyclical measure to wait out the sluggish economy. After a several-month period of 100,000-plus job gains in the labor market, hiring has slowed, with the most recent monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics noting job growth was completely flat, with net zero new hires.

Going into the 2011-2012 school year, nearly 85 percent of all school districts face budget cuts, according to labor groups; the depletion of 2009 stimulus money that relieved state legislatures from cutting even deeper into education spending meant more layoffs and school infrastructure neglect. The National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the country, have said the first round of stimulus funds helped 90 percent of school districts avoid spending cuts. Though with many state legislatures passing expansive tax cuts, school spending was on the cutting block.

Many states have dramatically thinned out spending streams to education. From Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

21 of the 24 states analyzed are providing less funding per student to local school districts in the new school year than they provided last year, and 17 of the 24 are providing less than they did before the recession, after adjusting for inflation. In 10 of these 24 states, per student funding is down by more than 10 percent from pre-recession levels. The three states with the deepest cuts — South Carolina, Arizona, and California — each have reduced per student funding to K-12 schools by more than 20 percent.

Though state contributions to school district spending varies by state, nationally, 47 percent of public education spending comes from state coffers. Since the start of the Great Recession, 229,000 teachers were laid off. And with the housing market at a standstill, local communities are strapped as their chief revenue stream runs dry.

Still, a few states upped their primary and secondary education spending: Alaska, Iowa, New Hampshire, Maryland, Massachussetts and Pennsylvania sent more dollars to K-12 education since the start of the recession.

Because public education allotments follow ‘formula’ spending as indicated by federal law — in which dollars are sent over based on district financial need — a disproportionate amount would flow to poorer neighborhoods, meaning middle-class zones would feel the squeeze. New Jersey, for example, is under court order to withhold any more spending cuts affecting school districts in low-income areas.

The remaining $25 billion would go to refurbishing school structures while funding new science labs, internet-ready classrooms, and modernizing rural school houses while bolstering public school facilities’ green bonefides across the country.

A statement from the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers’ union, read in part:

President Obama also made it clear that the path to our future is through education. We have seen a loss of 300,000 education jobs since 2008 as well as long-delayed school repairs and modernization projects. We can’t equip our kids for the knowledge economy if we continue to slash education budgets. This robust plan will put people to work teaching and modernizing schools, and it will save money in energy costs that can be reinvested in education.

For a spending breakdown of the president’s proposed jobs bill, click here [PDF].

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