Obama Jobs Plan: White House Weighing Options on School Repair, Teacher Hiring

Thursday, September 8, 2011

WASHINGTON --The president's reported $300 billion plan to resuscitate a stagnant job market remains in a fairly vague form, one day before the president is set to discuss it in an address to a joint session of Congress. But sources outside of the administration are hopeful about one component: money that would be spent to rehire or retrain teachers and repair failing school systems.

Several Democratic sources on and off Capitol Hill told The Huffington Post on Tuesday night that the president would discuss those funds in his speech. How much he will focus on them remains unclear, and there is general concern that the amount of money he will propose allotting won't meet the need. The White House has steadfastly refused to comment on the president's plan for jobs, save to stress that it will be paid for in full and include objectives that both Republicans and Democrats can agree to.

Details began to emerge on Tuesday evening when the Associated Press reported that Obama would call for "public work projects, such as school construction," while the Los Angeles Times reported that the speech would push for "job training for the unemployed and a program to prevent teacher layoffs.?

Advocates for these programs insist that they resemble a case of smart politics and even smarter policy merging. For parents recently dropping their kids off for their first days of school, a call to lower class size and repair facilities will be alluring. And it's not as if the need for these changes isn't there.

State and local governments, facing budget shortfalls, have turned to school systems to make up the difference. Only three states increased funding for education in FY 2012 -- the rest cut it by millions. California, in a particularly alarming example, laid off an estimated 19,000 teachers as of this spring because of a $27 billion budget shortfall. Sending money to states of municipalities for the direct purposes of teacher retention or rehiring will curtail that trend, put teachers to work and generate a solid amount of economic activity, advocates say.

The refurbishing of schools could have an even larger economic multiplier effect. Currently there is an estimated $270 billion to $500 billion backlog in school maintenance and repair projects nationwide. A droplet of federal spending would be consumed quickly, putting construction workers to work in a needy sector.

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