By B.C. Manion
It was no accident that Vice President Joe Biden chose to drop by Oakstead Elementary School last week in a pitch to sell President Obama’s American Jobs Act.
Oakstead is the largest elementary school in Pasco County, a school district that’s been rocked in recent years by steep budget cuts — including a $54 million shortfall this year that resulted in 513 fewer jobs.
Biden visited Kelly Keene’s fifth-grade class in a portable classroom building before holding his afternoon news conference in the school’s media center.
Keene’s class has 25 children. That’s six more students than she taught last year, and three more than the state’s 22-student class size cap.
Oakstead, which has more than 1,000 students, lost eight teaching positions because of budget cuts. Built just six years ago, the school was constructed for 700 pupils. It must use 22 portable classrooms to accommodate the overflow.
At the Oct. 4 news conference, Biden said the proposed American Jobs Act would jumpstart the economy.
In part, the measure calls for preventing up to 280,000 teacher layoffs, while keeping cops and firefighters on the job; modernizing at least 35,000 public schools; providing tax cuts to small businesses; and building or repairing roads, rails, airports and waterways.
The measure was expected to go to a vote before the Senate as early as Tuesday, Oct. 11.
During his remarks, Biden cited a newly released report revealing that 300,000 teachers across the nation have lost their jobs since 2008.
“That’s bad for the teachers, in terms of being able to make a living, but it’s devastating for our children,” Biden said. “This is an emergency.”
Oakstead is a “Grade A” school, the vice president said, but he noted, “there are a lot of schools around the country that aren’t Grade A.”
During the past 12 months, budget cuts across the nation have resulted in 200,000 fewer teachers, 10,000 fewer firefighters and 18,000 fewer police officers, Biden said.
Besides reducing public services, those reductions play out in very practical ways across the economy, the vice president said.
“It means fewer haircuts, fewer trips to the restaurant, fewer times you can take your kids to the movies, fewer times you can gas your automobile up — and fewer, and fewer and fewer,” Biden said.
When cuts are made to education, they have long-term consequences, added Biden, whose wife taught in public schools for years and now teaches at Northern Virginia Community College.
“All of this matters. It matters in terms of our long-term national security. It matters in terms of how many children we’re going to have college-ready 12 years from now. It simply matters,” Biden said. “We’re competing in a much more competitive world.”
The jobs act would create opportunity at a time when the nation desperately needs it, Biden said.
“People ask me, ‘Can we afford it?’ My response is, ‘Can we afford not to do this?’” Biden said.
During his remarks, the vice president thanked parents and teachers and Principal Tammy Kimpland for all that they do to help children learn. And, after the news conference, he worked the crowd – shaking hands and posing for photographs, while patriotic music played.
Outside, Nina Gregory, a teacher who serves special education students and their parents, said she was glad she was able to attend the event.
“I loved it. It’s been so tough for teachers and parents, as well,” Gregory said.
“It really was inspiring. I think that we needed to hear the validation that teachers are important. I loved the way that he emphasized parent involvement.
“It’s a tough time, but there’s hope. We have to keep on trucking and things will happen,” she said.