Under some circumstances, a choice between saving people’s jobs, when the jobs in question are badly needed, and limiting federal spending can be enough to make your head explode. (My libertarian and liberal friends alike will disagree on that point, but I have shades of both.) The issue of increasing aid to halt teacher layoffs is one of those circumstances. Being the daughter of two teachers (although one teaches at a university), I am fully aware of their inherent value, but debt is debt.
President Obama is touting his proposal for $25 billion in education aid to states as a jobs effort. The money would be spent to rehire or retain teachers and “other education jobs,” in light of 300,000 of those having been lost since 2009 and student-to-teacher ratios increasing by 4.6 percent since 2008. Obama consequently points out that the public sector has been shedding jobs, hoping that will stave off standard-issue “big government” accusations (despite that this was already tried in the 2008 stimulus package).
It won’t if “other education jobs” refers to new bureaucrats, which should be the first rule governing how this aid is to be spent, if it is to be spent at all. It should be devoted entirely to the people who do the teaching. I would add a requirement that each school rehire no more teachers than they laid off since 2009, and apply for aid individually with that number. This may not improve student-to-teacher ratios markedly, but I’ve heard of worse than the national average of 16 students to one teacher.
Some critics of this proposal will charge that rehiring teachers will help their unions rake in more dues, which they would subsequently use to donate to Democrats. It’s hardly grounds for dismissing the idea, but it is a valid point. If anyone has a plan for constraining the ability of unions to bilk the people they represent for political reasons, please present it now.
Other critics will remind us what we need to do before we even think about new federal spending projects, namely shoring up the job/small business market and resolving the debt crisis. I agree; this is far from the economic boost America needs. 300,000 public sector jobs, even if we agree that they’re the rare useful public sector jobs, certainly won’t score a sufficient amount of political points. But it’s something Congress might be able to grin and bear.
Of course, I’d be quicker to embrace this aid proposal if I knew it were part of broader efforts to a) boost hiring across the country and b) refocus federal spending on the most valuable stuff. But we’ve experimented with broad efforts and failed too often. Let’s settle for one OK idea at a time.