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Obama and teacher layoffs

Illinois has seen widespread teacher layoffs, reports the Chicago Sun-Times Rosalind Rossi — in spite of billions of dollars coming from Washington. The Obama administration did spend some resources to prevent teacher layoffs, but they also had their eyes on long-term education reform.

Rossi relates the numbers:  2,102 Illinois teaching jobs were cut as of September 2010, not including another 554 teaching jobs lost in Chicago alone, according to the Chicago Teacher’s Union. In the fall of 2009, there were 1,438 layoffs. These layoffs do have some short-term positive consequences: fewer school districts are now on the state’s financial watchlist. But the problem is getting worse — fully two-thirds of all school districts reported laying off teachers going into the 2010-11 school year compared to half of all districts for 2009-10.

The $787 billion stimulus bill provided $356 billion for state budget stabilization, the plurality of which went to Medicaid, though more than $100 billion went to education. In addition, the Dept. of Education, which operates on an approximately $50 billion annual budget, got an unprecedented $115 billion in stimulus money. Then, with stimulus funds expiring, Obama and Congress gave states another $10 billion last summer to prevent teacher layoffs.

But none of this was enough for Illinois to deal with a budget deficit that may reach $15 billion. Also, the Obama administration used the economic crisis to implement education reforms like more charter schools and merit pay for teachers. “The Race to the Top” grant program gave schools incentives to change and Illinois duly altered its state education laws — only to receive no Race to the Top money. Time will tell (measured in student outcomes) if the current turnover heavy teacher environment was an ideal time to implement these reforms or just added to the chaos and anxiety.

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