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60,000 Teacher Jobs Restored with Stimulus, Educators Say It's Not Enough

New America Media, News Report, Rupa Dev and Aaron Glantz Posted: Oct 24, 2009

More than 60,000 of the 250,000 education jobs saved nationally by President Barack Obama's stimulus package were in California, according to data released this week by the California Department of Education.

Community activists expressed relief over the saved jobs, but Fred Glass, spokesperson for the California Federation of Teachers, cautioned that while the stimulus package "stopped some of the bleeding," the state still had to lay off an estimated 10,000 teachers.

"It's slightly better than we thought it would be," Glass said. "But that's because most of the districts depleted their reserves or found other ways to keep cuts away from the classroom ... They cut back on supplies, gardeners, school support secretaries, and food service workers."

"You can't have a functional school without all that," he said.

The $4.9 billion in education funding that California received under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act partially offset deep cuts to classrooms that were made by politicians in Sacramento. Rather than resulting in new teachers being hired, the stimulus package caused fewer teachers to be laid off.

In the San Francisco Unified School District, for example, about 215 education jobs were saved by the Recovery Act. The Recovery dollars, along with nearly $25 million from the city's rainy day fund, allowed the school district to avoid laying off any teachers.

"It's not just about how many teachers we didn't lose. It's about how many resources we were able to hold onto," said Pecolia Manigo, education equity campaign director for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San Francisco. "Some of our teachers are counselors -- they do much more than just being in the classroom," she said.

Activists say the focus on limiting teachers layoffs has taken away attention from the larger issue of improving the quality of education for students, especially African Americans, Latinos, and Pacific Islanders, whose academic performance continues to lag behind that of whites.

Were in a system where our students need a lot of nourishment above and beyond what average students need, Manigo said. "If we say the education system is a body, we've already stripped it down to the skeleton."

The San Francisco schools have a strategic plan to close the achievement gap, but with few resources, Manigo wonders, How realistic is that?

That question is being raised by educators across the state.

Liz Guillen, director of legislative and community affairs at the civil rights group Public Advocates, said lean budget times actually may be widening the achievement gap.

The needs of the district may be different than the needs of the students. The district has limited dollars and wants to spend as little as possible, she said.

Educators also worry about what will happen next year when budget cuts in Sacramento persist and there are no stimulus funds to bail out California schools.

It feels good to not have to make these tough decisions this year, Manigo said, but its just the calm before the storm.

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