This editorial appeared Tuesday in The New York Times:
The school district in Reading the nations poorest city laid off 110 teachers last week, along with hundreds of other employees. As elementary students watched in shock, many of their favorite teachers were pulled out of an assembly one by one and given the bad news by district officials, The Reading Eagle reported.
The layoffs will mean larger classes and an end to public prekindergarten in the city. Many special-education students will lose their mentors. A city where only 8 percent of the residents have a bachelors degree (compared with the national average of 28 percent) will fall further behind, largely because Gov. Tom Corbett chose not to find state money to replace $900 million in federal aid that ran out after the stimulus expired. Instead, he further drained his public coffers by cutting business taxes by $250 million this year.
Across the country, many states like Pennsylvania that happily accepted stimulus money to pay for existing employees are laying off those workers now that Congress has turned off the spigot. In the past three years, at least 700,000 state and local government employees have lost their jobs, including teachers, sanitation workers and public safety personnel, contributing a full percentage point to the unemployment rate.
That seems to be just fine with Mitt Romney, who, like many Republicans, does not consider a job to be economically significant unless it is in the private sector. Last week, he attacked President Barack Obama for proposing to help states hire more teachers and other workers, saying the president doesnt understand that Americans dont want to hire more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.
Only right-wing ideologues make that distinction; most Americans know driving a bus or picking up trash is just as important economically as working in a big-box store.
Romney tried to retreat from those comments Monday, saying that local-government hiring was not a federal issue, but obviously it is. The federal government provided about 10 percent of K- 12 education budgets before the stimulus, and that share increased in the past three years. The stimulus money helped save 400,000 education jobs.
Since the stimulus began in 2009, Washington has provided more than a third of state budgets, supporting as many as a half-million other jobs, but that wasnt enough to prevent layoffs, which have increased since the money began to run out.
There have been at least 100,000 education employees laid off nationwide in the past three years. California has lost 32,000 teacher jobs 11 percent of the workforce. Pennsylvania laid off nearly 9,000 teachers and other school workers last year, largely because of Corbetts cuts.
In some cases, states have been forced to cut public employees because of unduly high pension benefits, and we have supported state efforts to reduce those pensions. But putting educators and others back to work ultimately depends on Congress, where Republicans are blocking vital legislation to bolster a faltering economy.
For desperate cities like Reading, time is running out.