Main Street Early Education Program teacher Phil Cleary was selected to represent all of New York state’s educators last week at a gathering at the White House to discuss the American Jobs Act and the Obama administration’s efforts to put people back to work.
Cleary was one of about 100 teachers, laborers, activists and White House staffers to take part in a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 1. At that meeting, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and their staffs solicited comments from those in attendance about the unemployment crisis.
“The White House staff, the president and the vice president all spoke,” Cleary said. “They talked about the initiatives they felt reflected the needs of the American people, but they also encouraged the group to make comments and ask questions that helped them. I think it’s an initiative that’s been ongoing at the White House where they’re, on a regular basis, asking different groups of people on all kinds of topics, even beyond what I was there for. They’re bringing in people from all over the country and trying to understand what’s going on in people’s daily lives.”
Cleary said he emphasized the critical role of education in addressing the unemployment issue.
“Education is an investment that pays for itself many times over,” he said. “If we want our economy to perk up, we’ve got to invest in education and get people back to work. We need educated students, and we’re not going to get anywhere with fewer teachers and crumbling schools. Schools need to be repaired or replaced.”
As an advocate for New York’s schools, Cleary pointed out that this state has been hit particularly hard by the recent economic downturn, and that’s particularly evident in the education sector.
“It was my job to represent New York and remind them that right here, in New York state, in the last three years, we’ve lost close to 20,000 teachers,” he said. “In Central New York, we’ve lost 3,000 or more jobs. In the North Syracuse school district where I work, in the last five years, we’ve lost close to 200 teachers. With the budget horizon and the difficulty in getting funds for education, we’re looking at probably laying off more in the future. And it comes at a particularly terrible time because social pressures are making it harder for kids and harder for schools, and there are increasing forces saying that schools have to perform at higher standards, yet the funds for doing that have been cut, teachers have been laid off, kids have less access to their teachers, larger class sizes. That’s not something that helps us move forward.”