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Statement of Chris Bern - President, Iowa State Education Association

April 14, 2010

Submitted to the Committee on Appropriations
Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request for the Department of Education
And the Education Jobs Crisis.

United States Senate

Thank you, Chairman Harkin, Ranking Member Cochran, and the Members of the Committee. 

My name is Chris Bern and I have been a public school teacher in Iowa for over 30 years.  Two years ago I was elected to serve as President of the Iowa State Education Association.  I am proud to represent 34,000 dedicated educators in more than 350 school districts across Iowa.

We are fortunate in Iowa to have some of the best public schools in the country.  Yet today in Iowa and across our country, scores of talented, experienced teachers and education support professionals are at risk of losing their jobs due to historic state and local budget deficits. This spring, Iowa’s teachers faced the threat of massive “pink slips.”

I am very worried about what this means for our economy, as investments in education are inextricably linked to economic strength.  More importantly, I am worried about what it means for our students.
A school district facing massive job losses will face larger class sizes and/or elimination of programs, both of which are detrimental to students.  Iowans had a glimpse of what these job losses might mean for their kids and they didn’t like what they saw.

Not one fewer student is coming through our doors because of the economic crisis. They still need us to help them, inspire them and educate them every single day. The education jobs crisis is not only about adults, it is about children who get only one shot at an education and didn’t ask to go to school during this crisis. 
Although our state revenue picture improved slightly this spring, we still anticipate as many as 1,500 teachers and education support professionals will receive pink slips -- almost four percent of Iowa’s education professional workforce.   And, that doesn’t count positions lost due to retirements and attrition. 

The education investment in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was critically important.  It funded 6,715 education jobs in Iowa – teachers, librarians, nurses, and support workers.  Close to 5,000 of those jobs resulted directly from the aid in the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.   We desperately need this aid extended now.

I want to tell you about one of my colleagues whose job was saved because of ARRA -- an Iowa City special education teacher who was pink slipped last year.  She split her time in two schools working with students needing individual assistance.  Without her, these students would most certainly fail.  ARRA saved her job.  She is now employed full time at Penn Elementary and continues her work with special needs students.  What would the classroom be like without her and others like her?  If she had lost her job, she might have left the profession.  We cannot afford that collateral damage.

The Senate needs to act quickly on an education jobs package.  The House has already passed $23 billion for an Education Jobs Fund.  That bill would help save or fund as many as 4,900 Iowa education jobs.  I would like to thank you, Senator Harkin, for your leadership in introducing a similar bill in the Senate this week – the Keep Our Educators Working Act. I hope your colleagues will support it and approve it quickly. 
My colleagues back home asked me to deliver a strong message – please act now to help avert the looming layoffs that will reach into almost every Iowa community, threatening our economic recovery and our students’ education.

I also ask the Senate to look closely at the Administration’s proposal to increase the use of competitive education grants.  Formula grants provide a solid foundation of resources needed to ensure a quality education.   This has never been more important than in today’s economy.  Many rural districts would simply be unable to compete, as they do not have staff to write grant proposals.  Instead of winners and losers, all districts should receive the resources they need to succeed.

My bottom line today is that Iowans expect our schools – and our teachers – to receive the support they deserve.

Please give us those resources and I promise that we will attract and keep the best and brightest educators and we will continue to educate the future of this great nation.

Thank you.