VP Biden talks jobs at Pa. elementary school

Vice President Joe Biden takes questions from a fourth grade class at the Goode Elementary School in York, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011, during a stop to highlight the American Job Act. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)

October 18, 2011 5:04:13 PM PDT
Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday went to one of Pennsylvania's poorest school districts to make the case for a White House jobs plan to put thousands of laid-off teachers back to work by forcing higher taxes onto some of the nation's wealthiest taxpayers.

The plan appears doomed by Republican opposition in Congress, but Biden insisted that it is an issue of fairness, not class warfare, and that America cannot afford to ignore the education of its youngest students, when good instruction is most crucial in a student's life.

"These kids are the future of the school district, they're the future of the country," Biden told a crowd of educators, parents and local officials gathered in the library of Goode Elementary School. "It sounds trite to say it but we can't be shortchanging them now. ... These are not someone else's children, they're our children. They're the kite strings that hold our national ambitions aloft."

He also warned that America is threatening its security and ability to compete by doing what economic rivals are not: laying off teachers.

"Does anyone think we can lead the world with 300,000 fewer teachers in our classrooms nationwide? Do you think China's cutting teachers?" he questioned.

For his backdrop, Biden picked a school district that has been hit hard by the recession.

York City School District lost about a quarter of its teaching ranks as it sought to address a $25 million deficit, about a third of which was caused by cutbacks in state aid.

York, where about 80 percent of schoolchildren are considered poor enough to qualify for subsidized school meals, was among the districts hurt the most as Gov. Tom Corbett and the Republican-controlled Legislature sought to balance the state budget without raising taxes.

They did, in part, by cutting more than 10 percent from state aid for public school instruction and operations.

As a result, a number of York classrooms now have 30 or more children and elementary schools no longer have instructors who specialize in music, art or physical education, teachers say.

The district maintained its full-day kindergarten program with the help of teachers, who accepted a voluntary pay freeze.

"How many guys you hear on Wall Street saying, `Cut my wage in half so we can get the economy growing a little bit so I don't have to charge you 5 percent for the debit card per month?"' Biden said, referring to the announcement by some major banks that they are charging customers new monthly fees for using their debit cards.

Across Pennsylvania, thousands of teachers and other school employees were laid off in recent months, while thousands more who quit or retired were not replaced.

In Washington, Senate Democrats have unveiled the first piece of President Barack Obama's jobs plan, a bill called the Putting Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act, to help schools and towns hire teachers, police and firefighters.

Pennsylvania's U.S. senators are split on the proposal. Democrat Bob Casey is a primary sponsor of it and Republican Pat Toomey is among the ranks of Republicans who have prevented debate or a vote on the wider $447 billion jobs bill.

The first bill would spend $30 billion to create or save school jobs and $5 billion to do the same for police and firefighters, and get the money by imposing a new half-percent tax on income over $1 million.

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