In early August, when the U.S. Senate earmarked $10 billion to recover lost jobs in education, supporters of the measure claimed the money would save thousands of teachers’ jobs. President Obama put the figure at 160,000 jobs across the country. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said it would save the jobs of 16,500 teachers in her state. And Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) claimed the funding would protect between 2,000 and 3,000 teaching jobs in Colorado.
But nearly three weeks after the vote, Bennet, at least, appears to have exaggerated.
According to Education News Colorado, the hard fact is no one knows for sure how many Colorado teachers’ jobs were eliminated or at risk this year because of budget cuts. The most specific estimate EdNewsColorado could find suggested budget cuts affected 1,825 Colorado teaching jobs — a number near the low end of Bennet’s range, but a far cry from his 3,000 figure. The EdNewsColorado estimate even included layoffs, attrition, position freezes and other staffing actions in multiple job classifications — categories not exactly equivalent to teaching positions lost.
So, why did Bennet recite that inflated estimate on the Senate floor Aug. 5 and include it in a news release the day before? Bennet’s communications director did not respond to phone calls seeking an answer, but, presumably, the senator must have accepted the U.S. Department of Education’s official estimate without question.
Bennet really couldn’t have gotten the number anywhere else. The Colorado Department of Education doesn’t have an official estimate, said Mark Stephens, director of communications. The Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives don’t either, according to EdNewsColorado.
That’s fine if the federal figures are reliable. But the Department of Education seems to have used the same misguided math to make its projections as Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) did to claim the bailout would save the state of Washington about 3,000 teaching jobs — when, in fact, the number was just 445.
According to the Tacoma News Tribune, Murray simply divided her state’s portion of the bailout money by the average teachers’ salary to determine the number of jobs “saved.” With that math, the more money the federal government allocated, the more “jobs” states saved, no matter the number of existing jobs, much less the number of jobs in jeopardy.
The Department of Education did not respond to phone calls, but according to EdNewsColorado, the federal agency used state budget information, school enrollments and average educator salaries — not actual pink slips — to determine its projections. That sounds a little too similar to Murray’s method to be completely reassuring.
Maybe that’s why several deficit-laden states, including California and Oregon, might opt to use the bailout money to pay down debt instead of to rehire teachers — because teachers’ jobs were never as much at issue as the federal government claimed.
It certainly seems that way. From 2003 to 2008, 38 states increased their teacher work forces at a greater rate than student enrollment, according to research by the Education Intelligence Agency. The same years, in Iowa and Kentucky, one new teacher was hired for every two new students.
Federal lawmakers might now object to states using the allocated money for real problems — and, indeed, they have. Boxer, for example, issued a terse statement that said, “This funding can only be used to save education jobs that serve our children in public schools — and nothing else.”
But perhaps Boxer and others who voted in favor of the education jobs earmark should have verified state needs before they devoted billions of federal dollars to an exaggerated problem.