Barack Obama

Layoffs loom for teachers: education secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many teachers and educators across the United States are at risk of losing their jobs in the next few months, the nation’s education secretary told a meeting of the National Governors Association on Sunday.

President-elect Barack Obama (R) listens to Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan during a news conference at the Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago in this December 16, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

“I am very, very concerned about layoffs going into the next school year starting in September. Good superintendents are going to start sending out pink slips in March and April, like a month from now, as they start to plan for their budgets,” said Arne Duncan, referring to the slips of paper included in some paychecks to notify a person of being fired.

As tax revenues in most states continue to plummet because of weak economies, states and cities are considering cutting education to keep their budgets balanced. Every state in the union except one, Vermont, is required to balance its budget.

The economic stimulus package, pushed last year by the administration of President Barack Obama and approved by Congress saved at least 320,000 education jobs, Duncan told the governors.

The plan included the largest transfer of money from the U.S. government to states in the nation’s history, according to the Pew Center on the States.

It created a stabilization fund of $48 billion that provided cash directly to states, mostly for schools. But those funds will likely run out before the end of the year.

Last week, Obama warned of the possibility of layoffs in state governments when the stimulus ends.

Late on Sunday, the White House announced that it will put $350 million into new competitive grants states can use to develop educational standards designed to prepare students for college.

Meanwhile, Duncan said the $1.5 billion “Race to the Top” grants included in the stimulus plan are on track to be distributed soon, with the finalists for the grants announced next week.

Obama has proposed extending the program, as well as expanding it by $3 billion, to fund new education innovations, especially at semi-autonomous charter schools.

The administration will also send out school improvement grants to states next month totaling $3.5 billion, Duncan said.

Employment is one of the most pressing issues in the United States, where the unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent. The secretary, formerly the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, said there was some hope for educators in jobs legislation passed by the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.

Duncan also said a bill known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act passed by the House would boost funding for colleges and universities.

In January, there were 8.03 million workers in local government education, down from 8.09 million a year before and 8.05 million in January 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Editing by Philip Barbara and Tim Dobbyn