Thursday, November 25, 2010;
IT HAS BEEN three months since President Obama signed a bill including $10 billion to stave off what he and Democrats in Congress described as an impending nationwide teacher layoff crisis. The sluggish economy was forcing state and local governments to cut back on education. "We can't stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe," Mr. Obama said at a Rose Garden signing ceremony. Not only would the bill maintain educational quality, claimed the president and other supporters of the measure - including teachers unions - it would deliver much-needed stimulus to the flagging economy.
These claims always struck us as the political equivalent of false advertising. There is no evidence that keeping teachers at work is better fiscal stimulus than alternative uses of the $10 billion - say, increasing food stamps. Indeed, Congress decided to pay for the teacher aid by cutting future food stamps. The layoff threat was exaggerated and could have been mitigated by modest union concessions; in any case, the bill did not target states with the biggest budget problems. The fine print in fact allowed states to spend the money on practically any education employment-related purpose, up to and including salary increases.
Now comes proof that such suspicions were well-founded: Loudoun County, as The Post's Kevin Sieff reported, is going to use almost half of its $9.4 million share of the federal cash not to employ teachers it otherwise would have fired - but to pay teachers for working less.
This bizarre turn of events began in April, when the cash-strapped Loudoun County School Board approved a two-day Thanksgiving-week furlough for teachers. The measure saved $4.5 million. For students, it was not a major sacrifice, since Loudoun's school year is already longer than the state requires. But teachers were incensed and threatened to picket. Then, as one school board member put it, "along came this money from the federal Department of Education." Seizing the opportunity to mollify its teachers without cutting the budget, the school board decided to spend $4.5 million of the federal aid to restore two days' teacher pay. But since it was too late to redo the school schedule, teachers - and students - will still spend two fewer days in the classroom.
In short, the only thing the federal money has accomplished is to turn a two-day teacher furlough into a two-day teacher paid vacation. For good measure, the county also used federal dollars to pay non-instructional staff, such as cleaning personnel, for the time off. Loudoun's teachers are happy. Taxpayers all over America, maybe less so.