As President Obama held up a copy of his American Jobs Act in the White House Rose Garden Monday and urged Congress to put aside political differences to put Americans back to work, he was surrounded by a supportive audience that included more than 20 educators who have personally felt the sting of tough economic times.
Teachers who have been laid off because of budget shortfalls applauded loudly as the President described how “all across America teachers are being laid off in droves” and argued that this is “exactly what we shouldn’t be doing if we want to prepare our kids for college.”
These teachers had very personal reasons for applauding the President’s plan. More than half off them have been laid of or are facing potential layoffs. Others work in schools that are falling apart, where brown water flows from faucets, ceilings leak and they share their classrooms with rodents.
Later in the day, many of the educators who had come to Washington for the President’s speech congregated at ED to share their stories with some of the ED staff and Secretary Arne Duncan.
They included teacher Lisa Bruska, a mother of three who’s fighting cancer, who described being laid off from teaching first grade at Becker Primary School in Minnesota. Her husband, Randy, a machinist, is also out of work. Bruska described the President’s speech as “inspirational” and urged Congress to invest in putting educators like her back to work.
Stephanie Harris Walker, an English teacher from Amsterdam, Ohio, who lost her job at Jefferson County Joint Vocational School, said that when the President described “schools that desperately need renovating,” she could really relate. “I was picturing my own school with a leaking roof,” she said, through tears.
Special education teacher Terrell Williams works in a Baltimore, Md., school that is in such poor condition that he gets angry with the debate about whether or not to fix it. “Sometimes I just find it offensive,” Williams said. Explaining that it is difficult to assure children that education is important when their schools are falling apart, Williams urged teachers and families to show decision-makers what the conditions are like for his kids.
Today, Secretary Duncan is traveling with President Obama to a school in Columbus, Ohio, to talk about the need to fix sub-standard school facilities. After his discussion with teachers, Duncan said, “These are the very conversations we need to be having across this country right now.”
The White House has prepared a fact sheet explaining how the American Jobs Act will help upgrade schools and community colleges, including how much money for modernization and renovation will flow to each state and some of the nation’s largest school districts.
ED Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert, a high school English teacher, is on loan to the Department of Education from Buncombe County, North Carolina.