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Teacher Layoffs Already Here, Bill Stopping Them Uncertain

This week, with Congress back from the Memorial Day recess, legislators will again push for a $23 billion aid bill to keep public-school teachers in their classrooms. Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) proposal, the Keep Our Educators Working Act, would help prevent the firing of as many as 300,000 educators. The states’ fiscal crises are peaking this year and next, with layoffs necessitated as the $44.5 billion in state aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has for the most part run out.

“This country is about to face a massive wave of layoffs in our schools and institutions of higher learning that could weaken our economic recovery and cause serious damage to our education system,” Harkin said in a statement. “This bill is an investment in our kids, in our economy and in our future.

“Recent headlines make the case that two pillars of the American dream — a good job and a good education — are at risk for millions upon millions of our citizens. At this point in our fragile recovery, we need to put Americans back to work educating the next generation, and that’s what this bill does.”

The House plans to take a similar measure up this week in a supplemental appropriations bill, mostly filled with war-funding measures. The House actually already approved the measure in December, as part of a jobs package now stalled in the Senate. Senators are expected to return to the measure this week (but not before Tuesday’s primaries) and they are expected to pare it back to win over the votes of centrist Democrats worried about deficits.

This is just one worrying instance of the federal government possibly wavering or pulling back on offering benefits to keep state workers employed and other forms of stimulus. Democrats killed a $24 billion state aid package in the House. The extension of COBRA health benefits for the unemployed might be at risk, as might the Doc Fix for Medicare.

As Ezra Klein*, Matthew Yglesias and Stephen Gordon explain, keeping up state employment is important as a form of stimulus. And pairing reductions in state spending due to the recession with increases in federal spending for stimulus, there has not been an expansion in government spending over the course of the recession.

For more good reading on the wave of coming layoffs for teachers, see Seyward Darby’s new piece in The New Republic on the possible ill effects of last-in, first-out provisions.

*Full disclosure: Ezra is my “unmarried domestic partner,” in the romantic phrasing of the Census.

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