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Labor on Labor: Jobs Act Will Put Teachers to Work, Serving Kids and Society

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Nov 07 2011 at 4:10 PM
FALL 2011 >>

By Randi Weingarten

The students at A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford, Conn., spend half of their day mastering a rigorous curriculum of math, science and language arts. They spend the other half designing parts for racing cars, whipping up gourmet meals, developing fashion merchandising strategies, laying down tracks for compact discs, constructing buildings, creating the latest styles of coiffures or pursuing one of a half-dozen other trades or professions.

When I visited the school this fall I saw young people who were preparing for college and work and were very engaged in school. They will graduate with both a diploma and a certificate in a trade. They were well beyond rote learning--they were becoming problem-solvers, critical thinkers and future entrepreneurs prepared for the challenges of the 21st Century knowledge economy. They were an inspiration to those of us visiting that day.

The youngsters at A.I. Prince are holding up their end of the bargain. They study hard, do what’s asked of them, apply themselves. It’s time for the country to hold up its end. There’s a lot of talk in Washington these days about creating jobs. Too often, the discussion neglects to mention the quality of that employment. While creating new jobs of any kind is a worthy goal, creating good jobs–the kind of jobs the students at A.I. Prince will be prepared to fill—is crucial to our economy, to our communities that desperately  depend on the services and revenue that high employment promote, and to our success as a country.

President Obama’s American Jobs Act would create an estimated 1.9 million good jobs over the next two years without adding a dime to the deficit. It would prevent the layoff of 280,000 teachers, and keep police and firefighters on the job. It would provide funding to hire construction workers to repair and modernize our schools and make sure our bridges and roads are safe and efficient. It would boost the stagnant economy by creating jobs that would allow millions of families to purchase homes, buy cars and pump money into local economies.

Sadly, Senate Republicans banded together to block a vote on this urgently needed bill. While the country suffers from consistent and grinding joblessness, it is an outrage that a group of senators would block legislation that would, if enacted, help jumpstart the nation’s economy, ease the suffering of its citizens and ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.

The actions of these senators do not represent the common sense, compassion and fairness on which America was founded and has flourished. Our country has always been a land of opportunity, a place where, by working hard and seizing opportunities, each generation has a chance to do better than the last. But hard data no longer supports that dream. While the United States is the world’s wealthiest nation, the most recent census figures show that 20 million Americans are in “deep poverty” – trying to survive on about $200 a week. Poverty affects 16.4 million children – more than one in five. The poverty rates for African-American and Hispanic children are far higher. Suburban poverty is soaring. Children are coming to school with more needs, yet schools have fewer resources because of slashed budgets.

We can and must do better.

Educational opportunity and the economy are inextricably linked. For decades, Americans have correctly viewed education as a ladder to economic advancement. But economists warn that the worst effects of the recession on public education could be ahead, as many states cut both taxes and school budgets, federal assistance to states expires, and tax bases continue to shrink with the collapse of the housing market. Unless many more Americans can get back to work in good jobs, we will be unable to sustain necessary investments in public education and other vital services.

That’s why action on the president’s economic plan is so crucial. We’ve already lost 300,000 education jobs since 2008. Class sizes are larger; course offerings are fewer. States and school districts must do their part, as well, to undo the damage and prevent further harm from years of cuts to public education and social services. But they need help, and they need it now.

We’ve run out of time for political posturing. The nexus between getting a good education and getting a good job is undeniable. Diminished educational opportunities carry lifelong implications, from the earning-power of individual citizens to the overall health of our economy.   

The students at A.I. Prince—as well as millions like them—are working hard to make their own dreams come true and to rebuild the kind of America we all want and deserve. We owe it them, as well as ourselves, to make sure they succeed.
Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.