The kids can't wait

How much longer? That's what all the kids who lined Ashland's downtown streets on the Fourth of July kept asking, asking, asking, as they waited for the annual parade to arrive.

Finally, a squad of motorcycle cops rolled up Main Street, sirens blaring, and the head of the parade arrived in the person of a tall, gangly man jogging along in a red baseball cap and white sneakers, smiling and waving to all those cheering kids and relieved parents. It was Sen. Ron Wyden.

Wyden and other members of Congress returned to work Monday from their extended Fourth of July break. And while it was nice to see them, front and center, in all the pomp and patriotism of the Fourth, we hope Wyden and his fellow lawmakers came back to Washington with a sense of urgency about the need to rescue the nation's schools.

After all, those excited kids and their anxious parents are now waiting on Congress. So are the school boards, such as Portland's, which is poised to slash more than 100 teachers and cut core programs such as physical education. So are thousands upon thousands of the nation's teachers who will lose their jobs, and may lose their commitment to teaching, if Congress fails to approve education aid to the states.

The House already has passed an $82 billion war spending bill that includes $10 billion to help states keep their schools open and save teachers' jobs. The House, led by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., found ways to pay for the school support, including using $500 million from President Barack Obama's Race to the Top program meant to encourage state school reforms.

The White House has threatened to veto the legislation if it reduces the Race to the Top funds. We hope that is just so much bluster; it's hard to believe that Obama would kill a bill that would send $10 billion to the states to stave off horrendous cuts to schools just to save a half-billion-dollars in a new discretionary program like Race to the Top.

Now it falls to the Senate to either approve the House plan or fashion an acceptable school package of its own. Wyden and Oregon's junior senator, Jeff Merkley, both have shown their support for providing a second — and almost certainly last — federal boost to help the nation's schools weather the economic downturn. We urge Wyden and Merkley to make this their highest priority in the coming weeks. If Congress has not approved a school aid package by the end of July, lawmakers will break for their August recess. When they come back, it will be too late for schools.

This needs to get done now. The new fiscal year began July 1, and school districts already are operating on borrowed time. School districts already have cut school days for next year and handed layoff notices to teachers. Other boards, like Portland's, are waiting as long as they possibly can, hoping that Congress comes together to help schools through this next year.

Meanwhile, job growth has stalled and the economic recovery is tenuous. It will only hurt the economy if Congress sits on its hands and forces the states to lay off tens of thousands of teachers and other school employees.

It's time for schools to move to the front of the parade. Wyden, Merkley and all those senators who spent their Fourth of July soaking in the applause of their constituents need to step up and deliver a rescue package for schools. The kids can't wait much longer.

— The Oregonian

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