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US Teachers Await Fate After Jobs Bill Passage

Aaron Harper

Aaron Harper

New congressional funding will help states keep close to 140,000 teachers and thousands more police and public service employees in their jobs. The economic downturn in the United States had forced authorities to lay off many educators at the end of the school year. But now, with federal funding, many hope to be rehired within the next couple of weeks.

Aaron Harper is hitting it off with a few summer campers, playing ball with bright blue, orange and green whiffle balls.
But, he'd rather be coaching them on chords and tempos.

In June, Harper taught his last class in instrumental music in the school district of Yonkers, a suburb north of New York City.

He and nearly 200 other teachers in Yonkers were laid off in June That's before the House of Representatives passed a bill to provide $10 billion so states can avoid teacher cutbacks. Harper isn't bitter.

"When they don't fund education, the district does what is has to do," he said. "I understand that. No hard feelings. I can't get angry about that. But still, at the same time, they have to support children."

The jobs bill allocates money to the states. From New York State, Yonkers will receive $6.5 million, which will save 90 teachers. School officials, like Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio, decide who is called back and who remains unemployed.

Will Aaron Harper be hired back?

"He's a tough one, he's one we really cherish here," said Pierorazio. "To get to a bare bones budget unfortunately, we had to cut what makes school special, like art, music and library."

The vote in the U.S. House of Representatives was largely along party lines, with Republicans saying the bill amounts to excessive government spending.

"A federal bailout is not the answer," said Representative John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota. "Spending another $10 billion we do not have will not improve public education or protect the very best teachers."

The school superintendent Pierorazio's eyes narrow when he hears arguments like that one.

"I look at the bailout of the auto industry and the banking industry," he said. "Those are short-term fixes, but long-term fixes are investing in the richest natural resource this country has and that's its children."

In his old music room, crisp, new uniforms await Aaron Harper's marching orders. Two instruments, a tuba and a baritone, sit discarded in a dusty crate. The paper sign says "garbage". Harper started the school band four years ago. Now, he entertains the summer campers, tapping his drumsticks on a weathered grey wooden handrail.

"God knows that I love to teach," said Harper. "I love kids. That I love to work with kids. I work with kids 365 days a year. The paycheck -yes, I was concerned about how to support my family. But importantly I worry how the kids are going to take it."

Janitors in Yonkers are preparing for students to return in September, But no one knows yet how many teachers will be here to greet them.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.