By Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, President of United Teachers Los Angeles Warren Fletcher and Superintendent John Deasy
As we work to overcome the biggest recession since World War II, we must not lose sight of this basic fact: we will not sustain the recovery and ensure our future prosperity without an educated workforce. If our students can't parse a paragraph, if they can't solve their math equations, if they don't understand their science formulas they will not succeed in today's highly competitive, increasingly global knowledge-based economy. Our country will lose its economic preeminence, its status as an incubator of innovation and its mantle of leadership to the new economic dynamos of India, China and Brazil.
Congress needs to pass the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Bill. There has been enough finger-pointing. The stakes are simply too high. This crucial legislation would put 37,000 teachers back where they belong: in their classrooms, in front of their white boards, with their students. It would provide over $3 billion in critical funding for our schools.
The idea is simple. You get what you pay for. And in California we are not investing nearly enough in the educational future of our children and the economic future of our state. Our schools don't have the funding to attract and retain the best teachers. Summer school programs are being cut and instead of giving students extra time to get a leg up, they're being left out and left behind. Schools are forced to choose between language arts and the visual arts. They simply don't have enough resources to offer all of the classes that our children need and deserve.
Without resources we cannot possibly hope to bridge the achievement gap. Since the beginning of the recession, the Los Angeles School District has been forced to considerably slash funding. The Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Bill would be a vital resource in making up some of this lost ground. It would provide $600 million to invest in teachers.
Here is another simple idea that our children understand but that we adults seem to have lost sight of: fair is fair. It is simply unfair to send some children to good quality private schools for $25,000 or more and then maintain that $7,000 - California's average per-pupil spending - is anywhere close to adequate to educate the rest. In Los Angeles, 84% of our students are Black or Latino and 76% qualify for free or reduced lunches. They deserve the same educational opportunities as their peers. The educational futures of these children must not be determined by their economic status or zip code.
If we continue on our present path, if we don't make the bold moves necessary to correct the imbalances in our educational investments, we'll not only shortchange our students we'll mortgage our economic future. California faces a shortage of one million college graduates by 2025. Without educated students who can compete for the good paying jobs of the future, we won't have enough homeowners to invest in our neighborhoods and enough taxpayers to sustain our public services. We will contend with a vicious circle of educational underachievement, unemployment and poverty.
The Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Bill is the type of bold move that we need right now. The public certainly gets its. In a recent Gallup poll, 75% of the respondents supported raising taxes if it meant being able to put teachers back to work. Now it's time for Congress to get it.
Protecting our children's right to learn and preserving their access to the middle-class isn't a partisan issue, it's an American issue. So we ask Congress to act quickly to pass this bill.
[As printed on Huffington Post, October 20, 2011]