Friday, August 06, 2010

Federal bailout for teachers in cash-strapped States

This just delays the unavoidable need for cost cutting -- easily achieved by slashing the bloated school bureaucracies. When I was in grade school there were only teachers in the school, no clerks or "administrators" at all -- and I got a great education. We learned to read by phonics ("The cat sat on the mat") and I started reading a couple of books a week at age 8. There were no computers or TV then so books were a major source of entertainment -- JR

A bill championed by Democratic lawmakers that would restore the jobs of teachers and other education professionals cleared the Senate on Thursday.

The $26 billion H.R. 1586, the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, will provide an emergency $10 billion to hire teachers and school workers and $16 billion to help keep state workers on the job caring for the elderly and sick. It is estimated that this fund will help keep nearly 140,000 teachers and other school workers employed next year. The bill will go before the House for a rare August vote on Tuesday to approve the legislation and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Solano, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and a major proponent of the bill, introduced the Local Jobs for America Act in March to help create and save public and private sector jobs and restore vital services in local communities. The provision in the bill to support education jobs was initially included in the Jobs for Main Street Act of 2010, which passed the House in December.

While a pared down version of the bill moved forward Thursday, locally, school districts could stand to receive millions in one-time aid.

"I applaud the Senate for passing this emergency legislation that protects not only our teacher jobs but our economic competitiveness," Miller said in a statement. "Next week, my colleagues and I in the House will return to Washington to take this important vote -- a vote we've taken twice already in the House -- to keep thousands of teachers in their jobs.

"We need this bill to ensure our teachers remain in the classroom and our students continue to learn. It's clear our students, our teachers and our country will reap the benefits of our decisive action. This investment will save jobs and help prevent districts from shortening the school year, increasing class sizes and closing libraries in the wake of horrific and damaging budget cuts. While this latest round of funding isn't enough to avert all layoffs, it is a critical investment in our children and in our future."

According to U.S. Department of Education projections, California could stand to receive about $1.2 billion.

But with school starting in the coming weeks for area school districts, it is unlikely the money, while desperately needed, will arrive in time to have an immediate effect.

In places like the Vacaville and Travis unified school districts, budget cuts have already increased class sizes, resulted in teacher layoffs and, in Vacaville's case, a shortened school year.

Vacaville Unified School District Superintendent John Aycock estimates that the district could potentially see about $150 to $200 more per student should the bill pass. That could equate to somewhere around $2 million -- roughly a quarter of what the district had to slash from its 2010-11 budget.

"Of course, any money is good money," Aycock said. But the money will first have to roll its way out from the federal government to the states, and ultimately to school districts, a process that Aycock guessed could take several months. "There is no easy and quick pass through," Aycock said.

Assuming the money does arrive, a plan would be drafted and the Governing Board would vote on how to use the funds.

During a budget session in June, multi-year projections showed that Vacaville Unified would need to cut another $2.9 million from its budget in 2011-12. This latest round of stimulus could go a long way toward easing the burden.

According to Miller's office, the bill includes provisions to ensure that states use the money to preserve jobs in elementary and secondary education. Amounts from the Education Jobs Fund may not be used for purposes such as equipment, utilities, renovation or transportation. The bill prohibits states from using any of these funds to add to "Rainy-Day Funds" or to pay off state debt.


Parents' outrage over halal-only school dinners planned for British primary schools

A council has triggered a backlash among parents and animal welfare groups after introducing halal-only menus at state schools. Only meat from animals killed in line with Islamic teaching will be offered at 52 primary schools in Harrow, following a switch by ten secondaries to halal menus.

But parents have voiced concern over the methods used to slaughter animals in this way and say they haven't been properly consulted over the changes.

Harrow Council is among the first in Britain to encourage halal meat. It says dieticians recommended the policy due to difficulties storing and preparing two sorts of meat.

According to the 2001 census, the North-West London borough is among the most religiously diverse areas in Britain. Just under half of the population is Christian, a fifth is Hindu, 7 per cent is Muslim and 6 per cent Jewish. The council says the composition of the area's primary schools is now significantly different and the Muslim population is larger.

Halal slaughtering involves cutting through the large arteries in the neck with one swipe of a blade, while a Muslim butcher recites a religious verse. All blood is then drained away since the consumption of blood is forbidden under Islamic law. Animal welfare campaigners say the method, which is exempted from welfare laws, is inhumane as animals are not stunned before being killed.

Harrow resident Sheila Murphy called the council's move 'appalling'. 'The Farm Animal Welfare Council has lobbied the government in the past to get the kosher and halal method of slaughter banned,' she said. 'The halal method is deemed cruel by some animal-lovers, who object to the slow death it involves.

'Harrow Council's decision is also taking away the choice of children and their parents over what meat they eat and I urge residents to make their views known to Harrow Council and get this decision overturned.'

Contracts signed with the council's preferred catering company, Harrison's, stipulate that only halal meat is served. The firm has been providing nine of the borough's secondary schools with meals for two years and will take on the final high school next month. The contract for providing meals to Harrow primaries is up for renewal and the council is planning to bring in Harrison's.

The council says primaries do not have to use its preferred caterer and governors are free to negotiate their own deals if they wish. Only two primaries have so far signed up.

Masood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority, said: 'It is commendable for schools to provide halal meals but there must be an alternative for non-Muslims. 'Some people are opposed to halal and kosher meat on animal welfare grounds and they should be given the choice not to eat it.'

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: 'By only offering halal meat there is an assumption a Muslim's conscience is more important than someone who is concerned about animal rights.'

Councillor Brian Gate, portfolio holder for schools and colleges, said: 'The decision about whether to use an individual provider is for schools to make, as funding is delegated to them. 'At present we are not proceeding to roll this programme out but this is because of the cost constraints and the level of interest from parents.'


British parents 'threatened with court' by union after criticising school

Parents have been threatened with legal action after raising concerns about their children’s primary school. Two people were warned by a teaching union that they could be taken to court for “harassment” following a series of complaints directed at the head teacher. It followed a public meeting called by mothers and fathers of children at St Alban’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Cardiff.

Families raised concerns over the suspension of three staff members as well as education standards, the turnover of teachers and allegations the school had abandoned Holy Communion.

But two people at the meeting – Sue Evans and Martine Paterson – then received letters warning them against making “slanderous statements” about Jane Vaterlaws, 51, the head teacher. In the letter, the National Association of Head Teachers said: "Your actions are viewed as malicious and as harassment and you are warned that should you continue to make false and slanderous statements about Mrs Vaterlaws, you are likely to find yourself in court.

"Please be in no doubt that action will be taken against you and any other individuals that persist with what is an illegitimate campaign. "The NAHT will not tolerate any malicious campaign against any one of our members and you should take heed of this warning."

Parents at the 200-pupil school claimed they had been left in the dark about the head's decision to suspend the three members of staff. Some parents also claimed some children as old as nine did not have basic literacy, teachers did not always know children’s names because of high staff turnover and the school was failing to offer Holy Communion.

Last month’s public meeting – held in a church hall – was led by Mrs Evans who later wrote to the Roman Catholic archdiocese listing a number of "areas of concern".

The letter to the two mothers was signed by Annie Hovey, the NAHT regional officer. Mrs Hovey’s letter said: "You are strongly advised to consider your position carefully as what you are doing is wholly illegitimate and is open to direct challenge from us as well as from the school, Cardiff council and the diocese. "We have advised Mrs Vaterlaws to consult the police with a view to taking action against you for harassment.”

Mrs Evans said: "They are very threatening letters. The other parent involved has been absolutely distraught about the one she received. "We have been told the church had a letter as well, about us using the parish hall for meetings. "But we have got to keep on with this now; we can’t let these parents down."


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