The president of the National Education Association (NEA) expects to hear a few things from President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address tonight.
Dennis Van Roekel leads the 3 million member labor union, which represents public school teachers and college and university staff.
“[Obama] really talked about opportunity in his inauguration speech and that it requires an economy that works for everyone,” said Van Roekel. “He mentioned that opportunity begins with great public schools for every student.”
Van Roekel hopes the speech will include talk of early childhood education and college affordability.
He says research and experience show that funding early childhood education is “the most important investment we can make.”
“It’s hard, I think, for policymakers to come up with a solution and make an investment that doesn’t show the results in one, two or five years. It’s down the road, but it is the right thing to do,” Van Roekel said.
As for college affordability, “The cost of college is just driving the amount of loans way out of whack,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that college doesn’t become something only a few can afford.”
In the coming months, Van Roekel is most concerned about federal cuts in spending and the debt ceiling debate.
“Those across the board cuts that will happen in education are devastating,” Van Roekel said. “Those will come toward the end of March and that’s when school districts have to issue pink slips if they’re not going to rehire teachers for the following year.”
Van Roekel has heard from districts that are looking at cutting 20 percent of their workforce if the feds don’t take action.
“The federal programs that will be across-the-board cuts are Title 1, special education, all programs that are designed and serve the interest of kids that have been left out of the overall system,” Van Roekel said. He said schools can’t take another hit on class size.
“When you lay off adults in schools, all the students are still there,” Van Roekel said. “So class sizes go up, programs are eliminated, special programs for specials needs of kids are eliminated. That is not the way to invest in the future.”