As budget-strapped school districts in Iowa and many other states face the firing of thousands of teachers, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin proposes spending billions of federal dollars to preserve a majority of those positions. Harkin, a Democrat, is introducing what he calls the Keep Our Educators Working Act.

“My bill would create a $23-billion education jobs fund that states could use mostly for retaining or hiring employees at pre-K, K-through-12 and also at public institutions of higher education,” Harkin says. “Iowa would receive an estimated 223-million dollars in new funds, enough, I believe, to prevent most of the coming school layoffs in our state.” Harkin says a report this week predicted that nationwide, as many as 300-thousand teachers and support staff could be laid off in the coming school year. That’s why he says action is needed now.

“A lotta’ people say oh, my gosh, our deficits are too big, our debts are too much, we can’t afford to do this,” Harkin says. “Well, I agree, our deficit’s too big and we’ve got too much of a debt, that’s why I have narrowly targeted this. This is narrowly targeted only to education.” He says the money could be made available for his legislation as he’s putting it in the “emergency” category.

“If there’s one area where I believe it is not only legitimate but advisable to borrow from our grandkids, great-grandkids, for purposes today, it’s for purposes of education,” Harkin says. “Obviously, our grandkids’ future will not be very bright if we don’t educate their grandparents who are in school today.”

Harkin says the widespread firing of teachers and other school staff “could set back the nation’s economic recovery,” in addition to translating to larger class sizes, reduced services and programs for students, and “degraded school quality.” Harkin says we can’t wait until August to fix the looming problem, “we have to head off this disaster now.”