MTA president hails federal action to help keep educators in classrooms

President Barack Obama signed legislation on Tuesday, August 10, containing emergency funds to help states cope with the great recession and stave off massive educator layoffs across the nation. 

The president took action shortly after the U.S. House of Representatives joined the U.S. Senate in passing the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, which will keep educators working and help states with Medicaid funding. It provides $10 billion for education jobs and $16 billion for a Medicaid funding assistance program known as FMAP.

The legislation is expected to provide approximately $655 million in federal funding for Massachusetts and help save well over 2,000 jobs in public education. The share devoted to education is expected to be over $200 million.

MTA President Paul Toner called the signing of the bill “a great victory for students and public education.”

“We especially want to thank all of the Massachusetts members of Congress who supported this critical measure, along with all of the MTA members who put their shoulders behind it,” Toner said. “Not long ago, when the legislation was in the Senate, we were far from certain it would pass, and MTA members worked hard to push it over the line.”

All 10 members of the Massachusetts House delegation voted in favor of the legislation, which was strongly supported by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. But the state’s two senators split their votes.

Toner visited Washington, D.C., in July to meet with both Senator Scott Brown and Senator John F. Kerry to discuss the need for their support. Kerry, a Democrat, helped lead the fight for passage, but Brown voted against the bill at a key juncture and also when it came to the floor.

MTA member John Lynch, a Brockton teacher, also visited Capitol Hill to lobby. Toner noted that the lobbying was part of an intensive effort by the NEA, and he praised the NEA for “informing all concerned about the situation and helping turn the tide for what should be a common national priority.”

According to the State House News Service, Patrick told reporters he would like to see the money coming to Massachusetts used to “fully fund” education aid to cities and towns, using $125 million, with the remaining $75 million used to boost higher education. SHNS reported that Patrick said the Medicaid funds should be applied to human services programs that have faced steep cuts.

“The governor and almost all of the delegation took a strong stand for students and public education,” said Toner. “We laud their leadership for the nation and their commitment to students.

“We will keep talking to Senator Brown, the one member who refused to support the bill, about the needs of public schools, colleges and universities throughout Massachusetts,” Toner added.

A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that the legislation, which is fully paid for, will reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over 10 years. The Department of Education estimates the bill will save some 161,000 educators’ jobs nationwide.