Education Secretary Speaks Out About New Federal Legislation

Posted on February 7, 2012

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News | Erin Agnew

Early in the school year, President Obama called a joint session of Congress to present his proposal to repair a quickly deteriorating economy.  On September 8, our President described his American Jobs Act before an expectant nation.  From the onset, he was careful to ensure that his proposal was not only bipartisan, but non-partisan, going so far as to label the desired legislation as “President Obama’s Plan to Create Jobs Now.”  In the week following his initial announcement, President Obama toured newly renovated schools in rural America.
The American Jobs Act promises to provide incentives to keep veterans, teachers, and first responders employed.  Aside from sustaining jobs, the proposal promises to create new jobs by first funding infrastructural improvements like highways and railways, and second “put[ting] people back to work rehabilitating homes and businesses and stabilizing communities.” The act then goes on to promise renovations and technological improvements for 35,000 public schools in the nation.
Following these initial promises and orations, the American Jobs Act ceased to make regular national headlines, instead finding the spotlight on the White House website homepage, accompanied with pertinent words from President Obama himself: “Without a doubt, the most urgent challenge that we face right now is getting our economy to grow faster and to create more jobs…. we can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will.” As the Congressional Super Committee failed to come up with a ten-year plan to reduce $1.5 trillion in national deficit, both the President’s quote and his proposed legislation seem to regain relevance and warrant a second round of national scrutiny.
Seeing as so much of the legislation deals with public schools, the National Association of Boards of Education (NASBE) has been working closely with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to see that funding is allotted to schools effectively.  The Chronicle participated in one of these conference calls between Secretary Duncan and NASBE students.  The following is a sampler of student interest questions brought up during the two-hour ‘webinar.’

Student: Will schools be given funding based more on size, or hiring patterns?

Secretary Duncan: 40 percent of 30 billion will go to the largest districts, 60 offered to all states based on need and hiring trends.  After that, I have confidence in local leaders figuring out the most effective way to allot funding. . . The goal is to eliminate debt of deferred maintenance. For example, basics like building renovations for safety will be covered before additions in the realm of classroom technology. . .  Regardless, it is going to be a tough local battle to get this bill passed and get money for students and for teachers

S: The jobs being funded by the bill, will they only be teachers, or school staff as well?

 Sec. Duncan: All school based personnel will be included in the job savings, not just teachers.

 S: Is there any possibility that the American Jobs Act can be passed as a series of separate acts, if it fails as a whole?
Sec. Duncan: If we have to go to a plan B or a plan C, we could do that… but all other aspects are important to communities and families as well. . . the act will be most effective on the whole.

    S: What advice can you offer to students all over the country, and to us in particular as student representatives?

Sec. Duncan: We as adults generally do a very poor job of listening and engaging with students. . . you students are so often ahead of us as to your needs and problems, so. . . seek out two or three or four values that are important to you [and] galvanize the students behind you.
And for you in particular, just as I’m here. . . to represent you –  I want your thoughts, your ideas, I want to represent you –  you’re there to help them [your fellow students], you’re there to be their voice, so. . .give regular feedback. . . so folks get an idea of what did and didn’t get accomplished.

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