Borrowing from Their Future: Senator Harkin’s $23 Billion Emergency Education Bill
Sarah Torre /
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing last Wednesday that he will sponsor a $23 billion emergency jobs bill in response to the country’s education employment situation.
During the hearing Education Secretary Arne Duncan described the education job situation as “brutal” and Ramon C. Cortines, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, warned of decreased academic achievement as communities “continue to hemorrhage teachers and other essential employees.”
Although state and federal education leaders worry about any decreases in employment, increases in education labor over the past few decades cast doubt on the claims that labor market fluctuations will result in a poor quality of education for American students. As the Empire Center recently reported, New York State saw an increase in education jobs over the past decade although student enrollment declined during the same period. Commenting on claims that budget cuts will cost 14,000 state education jobs, the Empire Center reported:
But these dire forecasts need to be weighed against a recent growth trend in school staffing. In fact, relative to enrollment, most school districts in New York employed more professional staff last year than they did at the start of the decade.
Between 2000-01 and 2008-09, New York schools added 14,746 teachers and 8,655 non-teaching professionals such as administrators, guidance counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers, according to State Education Department (SED) data. During the same period, statewide enrollment dropped by 121,280 pupils.
The area of fastest growth in New York State occurred in non-teaching, support staff.
Nationally, inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending has increased by from $2,703 in 1960 to $10,720 in 2006 while the student-teacher ratio has decreased from 27 to 1 in 1950 to 15 to 1 in 2006. Paying an increasing number of teachers to educate smaller classes of students (or else take lighter teaching loads) has led to a burgeoning jobs market in the education profession.
Increases in education jobs are expected to continue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report on kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary education teacher employment rates projects that job prospects for the industry will rise over the next decade even as student enrollment growth slows:
Employment of kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers is expected to grow by 13 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Through 2018, overall student enrollments in elementary, middle, and secondary schools—a key factor in the demand for teachers—are expected to rise more slowly than in the past as children of the baby-boom generation leave the school system.
Harkin is proposing the legislation without offsetting its cost–and he acknowledges that this is borrowing from the future:
If there’s one legitimate area where we can borrow from the future, it’s education, because what sort of jobs will we have for my grandkids and great grandkids in the future if we don’t have a well-educated group of young people today?”
Sadly, the only certainty in borrowing from our grandchildren to pay for bloated public-sector payrolls is to pass down higher taxes.
Harkin’s $23 billion spending bill will prevent states from having to make difficult decisions such as rethinking existing programs and increasing efficiency. Harkin is ultimately letting states off the hook for existing financial obligations and budget shortfalls. His is a plan that is unlikely to spur states to implement long-term solutions in a sector that is ripe for reform.