Obama must keep promise to schools

June 6, 2010


— While the nation remains preoccupied by the drama of the oil leak in the Gulf, which consumes an inordinate portion of time and attention in the media, a struggle of potentially greater consequence for most American families is taking place with far less publicity.

I am referring to the scenarios being enacted in legislatures across the land as the final strokes are being placed on state budgets, and the fate of literally thousands of teachers and pupils is being decided.

As noted here more than once, the arguments over taxes and borrowing that have become louder and more pointed in Washington are nothing compared with the fiscal mayhem in capitals from Sacramento to Boston. State economies have barely begun to recover from the wreckage of the Great Recession. And since taxes are mostly collected retroactively, after individual incomes are earned and spent, it will be well into 2011 or more likely 2012 before state and local budgets can be restored to their pre-recession levels — when more people are working.

Meanwhile, state after state is wrestling with the dilemma posed by their schools, the largest single item in most of their budgets.

They were given a year’s grace when President Obama dedicated a large slice of the 2009 fiscal rescue package of $787 billion to staving off the cuts that otherwise would have taken place in school budgets for this year.

That saved an estimated 300,000 or more teaching slots. But there is currently no second-year funding coming from Washington for another rescue mission. Liberal Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are trying to assemble such a package, but they have encountered resistance not only from Republicans but from moderate and conservative Democrats, well aware that the voters are becoming more and more worried about the deficits and debts this nation is incurring.

Of all the dilemmas Obama faces, this may be the cruelest. The arguments on each side — for averting teacher layoffs and for avoiding even more ruinous debt — are entirely convincing. But they collide.

In an ideal world, the president and his party would respond by passing a budget resolution providing an immediate rescue package for the states and committing to longer-range economies and revenue adjustments that would assure bond markets and financial circles that, with recovery, deficits will soon start to shrink.

But as they talked among themselves before the Memorial Day recess, the Democrats could not muster the will, or the courage, even to attempt to pass a budget resolution. Instead, they prefer to leave the hard trade-offs to the commission on deficit reduction that Obama has appointed, which will not report its recommendations until after Election Day.

The irony of ironies is that while these thousands of teachers are left twisting in the wind, the states, in a rare act of courage, have committed to each other to stiffen their requirements in English and math — the most heartening step in education reform in many years.

This bipartisan movement, encouraged by the administration but not led or forced by it, has won voluntary backing from the vast majority of states. That is a powerful statement from grassroots America about the willingness to improve the education of our children so they can measure up to international competition.

But we cannot commit to raising standards in one breath, and turn around and issue layoff notices to thousands of teachers in the next. That would be as unconscionable as vowing to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban, while simultaneously pulling out the increment of NATO troops.

As the days before the midterm reckoning dwindle, the inevitable paring of the Obama agenda will proceed at a faster pace. He will not be able to satisfy all the demands cascading on him. But when he looks at his young daughters, it should be clear to him that saving the schools is one promise he must keep.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. davidbroder@washpost.com


citizen0123 7 years, 10 months ago

Broder,you have got to be kidding me. if you want to improve the education of our children you need to stop throwing money at it and start firing(not laying off)all the incompitant teachers in the school system. you need to go out and talk to some of americas teenagers(and i dont mean a hand picked few) and you will find that if they dont have an ipod or some other kind of electronic device in their hands they arent very bright. most of our teachers are quite good at what they do. BUT,teaching is a job,they should hold annual reviews and if your not performing up to standard you should be terminated. the single biggest problem is the unions.before the unions took over the compitance of our teachers and the quality of the education our children recieved was far far better than it is now. it almost takes an act of congress to fire a teacher these days no matter how incompitant they are. money is not the answer,educate the educaters.

jafs 7 years, 10 months ago

Your post contains many spelling/grammatical mistakes.

Did you graduate from high school?

james bush 7 years, 10 months ago

SOBama needs the teachers' union NEA on his list of patrons for November elections.....Chicago style patronage.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 10 months ago

The entire federal accountability system, going all the way back to LBJ, has been clumsy and poorly administered. Nixon's block grants made some sense back in the day, but we are way beyond that and the bureaucracy is too entrenched. The new administration's initiatives are tied to teacher performance and good evaluation. Turning an ocean liner is difficult with any large institution. I also agree Democrats attend to some groups. The Republicans' version of "Chicago style patronage" takes place as well. Some argue it's centered in Wall Street, their version of Michigan Street, perhaps?

pace 7 years, 10 months ago

Call or write Kansas senator's, listen while they explain it is more important for the federal government to fail in any effort for education and while education and teachers are very important to them, it is necessary to do nothing for them for a while so we can elect a republican president next time. Do nothings, take no responsibility or action except for the hate do nothing campaign.

pace 7 years, 10 months ago

Everyone wants Obama to fix all the problems. The wing nuts want to blame Obama for the problems even they seem to think he should be able to fix all the problems. If the different factions of this country don't find a way to work together, the problems will worsen. It is a division that is daily built by PR campaigns. Hate always easier to sell than hard work. The republicans and democrats should roll up their sleeves and work. We should run the money lenders out of the congress and senate and forgo power for empowerment. We should at least ask our senators to do something. We should not vote for the face that appears in front of us on tv the most.

George Lippencott 7 years, 10 months ago

Spend -Spend - Spend -Spend _ Spend

What is the level of our responsibility as a society to provide a positive learning environment and what is the responsibility of the children and parents to learn given whatever environment is provided. As noted above, spending more does not lead to better education. Perhaps spending smarter might! Where is this money coming from - you have already spent all that I have on health entitlements, climate change, all sorts of special educational programs, aid to everybody, New Orleans, mortgages, Wall Street, and so it goes??

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