Teachers Are “Shovel Ready”

One of the things that bothered me about the ‘stimulus’ bill (other than it not being called an employment bill) is that there was a focus on things being ‘shovel ready.’ Not only did this imply that the depression* would be short-term (whereas un-, underemployment, and flat wages are largely ongoing structural problems), but ‘shovel ready’ also implied that keeping state and local budgets stable–not laying people off and cancelling orders with private contractors–was out of bounds (thanks Senator Nelson!). Atrios sums it up well:

I’m personally a bit tired of hearing about all of the problems with shoveling money out the door. It isn’t that hard. My local transit authority has had to cancel most of its on the shelf capital projects due to failure to receive planned revenue from tolling a highway. Those projects are basically shovel ready. They were scheduled. They aren’t happening. I bring this up because it’s what I know, not because I think my local transit authority is the most important thing in the world. Fix some bridges, fix some sewers, fix some train tracks. Just do it.

But it’s not just capital projects being cancelled. When state and local governments decide to act like little Herbert Hoovers, they end up increasing unemployment and acting as another drag on the economy. Consider this about teachers:

Superintendents, education professors and people seeking work say teachers are facing the worst job market since the Great Depression. Amid state and local budget cuts, cash-poor urban districts like New York City and Los Angeles, which once hired thousands of young people every spring, have taken down the help-wanted signs.
Even upscale suburban districts are preparing for huge levels of layoffs. School officials and union leaders estimate that more than 150,000 teachers nationwide could lose their jobs next year, far more than any other time, including the last major financial crisis of the 1970s….
At the University of Pennsylvania, most of the 90 aspiring teachers who graduated last weekend are jobless. Many had counted on offers from the Philadelphia public schools but had their interviews canceled this month after the district announced a hiring freeze.

Keep in mind, the teacher layoffs are occurring because of budget cuts, not appropriate personnel decisions (and I’ve never heard of a district that won’t hire teachers if they were to have the money to do so. Most schools need teachers). And the new hires are not just for expansion, but also to keep place and replace retirements and other forms of attrition. This means students have few teachers and larger class sizes, which is not good for learning.
Regarding ‘shovel ready’, these jobs are very ready–and obviously the layoffs can be halted with the stroke of a pen. Or we could fire more people during a depression and hurt education.
Herbert Hoovers everywhere….

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4 Responses to Teachers Are “Shovel Ready”

  1. george.w says:

    One other thing: teachers are very embedded in their communities. You give stimulus money to some big company, it wanders all over the place but teachers spend it where they live. A very high percentage of a teacher’s income is spent right in the community. This is also true of people who install insulation, pick up garbage, and of course who fix cars… or bridges.
    In other words, if the house is teetering, you shore up the foundation.

  2. llewelly says:

    My grandparents went to schools with class sizes in the 20s. My parents grew up with class sizes in the 30s. I grew up with class sizes in the 40s. Today’s kids will grow up with class sizes in the 50s. Hooray for progress!!!

  3. BaldApe says:

    I’m a teacher. Fortunately I was hired 13 years ago, so I guess I’m reasonable safe. (don’t ask me about COLAs or step raises, but I’ll survive.) But I completely agree that the fastest and surest boost to the economy would be to restore the federal contribution to state and local governments (who can’t run deficits) that the Alzheimer’s president took away.
    The emphasis on “shovel ready” was supposed to assure that the stimulus would be swift. Sadly, once the Democrats got done with useless pre-compromise, they delayed much of the spending.

  4. katydid13 says:

    The Recovery Act did actually put money into school districts. It was however, not long term money. None of was long term money, it wasn’t meant to be long term money.
    Getting money out the door fast is only easy if you don’t work in Washington. Any grant program is essentially balancing speed and accuracy. Giving out lots of money to lots of people will result in some fraud unless you have pretty draconian paperwork requirements, which will then result in complaints about paperwork. See FEMA cash assistance after Katrina for instance. Either the money was moving too fast and there was too much fraud or too slow and qualified people were being kept out.
    Then you get into arguments about Buy American programs, Davis-Bacon, prevailing wage rates, Small/Minority/Woman owned business contracting regs and everything else under the sun. Even those shovel ready transit programs aren’t going to be ready to be in compliance for a federal grant program whose rule’s haven’t been written.
    Finally, the money goes out and the reporting data comes in. Someone, somewhere is going to have violated one or more provisions in some way that either is really bad or sounds really bad in the news. The number of governmental entities pretty much ensures that. Someone, somewhere is going to have screwed up the form, been late, or something in way that looks bad. The number of governmental entities in the US and the feds ability to write incomprehensible forms guarantees that.
    One alternative to this would be to go with a revenue sharing formula andhand out cash to state and local governments based on some formula or factors and let them spend it on whatever they wanted. That would be fast and help make up for the fact that state and local governments generally can’t deficit spend.
    However, someone, somewhere in America is going to make a bad choice. Or not even a bad choice, but something that someone can make sound like a bad choice (see therapuetic play involving puppets in Katrina shelters). Then people want to know why all this money is going out without any strings attached.
    This is what every federal employee monitoring a grant program deals with. It’s not a simple process. It just sounds like is should be a simple process, but unless you are willing to put up with a certain amount of waste, fraud, abuse, and forego some social engineering, it’s actually fairly complicated.

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