N.H. education jobs are at risk
New Hampshire taxpayer money is supporting junior colleges in South Carolina, like Orangeburg-Calhoun Community College. We’re supporting schools in South Dakota, like the Divide County School District. And we’re helping to pay for backup generation capacity for the Aleutian Region Schools, within sight range of Russia way out on Alaska’s Aleutian Peninsula. Why are we lending a hand in these far-flung locales at a time when we’re slashing our state, local and school budgets? We’re doing it because we get back only about 71 cents back from the federal government for every dollar we send to D.C. This puts New Hampshire in the bottom five states for the return of federal dollars, year in and year out.I’m not suggesting that these schools don’t need the help – I’m sure they do – but we need our fair share of help, too. We expect to lose nearly 400 education jobs this year alone, with the poorest parts of the state bearing the brunt of these cuts. Coos, Cheshire and Strafford counties all had poverty rates of over 10 percent in 2008, according to the U.S. Census. Coos County has seen 51 education jobs lost (41 teachers, 10 support staff), Cheshire is losing 27 jobs (nine teachers and 16 support staff), and Strafford County is losing 50 jobs – all teachers – which we are aware of. All of our teachers in Somersworth, for example, received pink slips last month and now have to face the uncertainty and stress of not knowing if they’ll have a job next year.These numbers represent only the losses in this year of the biennium. With the loss of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, we are expecting similar losses next year, or worse.Congress, however, is working on a way to help. The Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010 (S. 3206), which is currently being debated in Congress, would save over a thousand jobs in New Hampshire.This gives us an opportunity to keep our classes small enough to allow children to really learn. It will give us a chance to give a thousand families greater economic security and it would bring a guaranteed $95 million into New Hampshire and improve our state’s economy.Passage of the Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010 would mean that we’d see $95 million dollars returned to New Hampshire in the form of aid to education, passed on a formula based on need. Education Secretary Arne Duncan compellingly described what’s at stake in a letter to congressional leaders:“We are gravely concerned that ongoing state and local budget challenges are threatening hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs for the upcoming school year, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 education jobs at risk. Without swift action, millions of children will experience these budget cuts in one way or another through reductions in class time, cuts to early childhood programs, extracurricular activities and summer school and reduced course offerings as teachers are laid off.”When educators lose their jobs, students lose too. Not one fewer student is coming through our public school doors because of the economic crisis and, due to this crisis, we’re seeing more children transferring from expensive private schools.Our children need teachers and support professionals to help, protect, inspire and educate them every day, and S. 3206 will help.Rhonda Wesolowski is president of NEA-New Hampshire.