Students could lose big in federal budget fight


By Amanda Litvinov / photo by Norman Y. Lono

Right now, most people are more excited about watching the Summer Olympics than tuning in to the federal budget talks under way on Capitol Hill. Understandable. But there’s much more at stake for our nation in the latter.

According to an analysis by NEA, if Congress fails to find a solution to keep us from going over the “budget cliff,” federal education funding will drop to levels not seen in a decade, even though our public schools now serve 5.4 million more students than they did 10 years ago.

No number of gold, silver and bronze medals can do more for our future than preventing cuts like these to critical programs that serve 9.35 million students:

  • Title I grants would be cut by $1.2 billion, cutting services for 1.8 million students and eliminating more than 16,000 education jobs
  • IDEA grants would drop to 2006 levels, despite a 27 percent rise in costs since then
  • School Improvement Grants would be cut by $45 million, hurting 69,000 students in our neediest schools
  • Rural education would be cut by $15 million dollars, though rural schools have absorbed 70 percent of increases in school enrollment

See how these and other programs would be diminished in your state if Congress doesn’t act.

Ninety percent of the 1,000 school administrators who participated in a June 2012 survey by the American Association of School Administrators said their states would be unable to absorb these automatic “sequestration” cuts, and the same number said their districts couldn’t make up for them.

The outcomes would be grim. Nearly 70 percent of administrators said the federal budget cuts would force them to slash professional development; others said they would have to cut academic programs (58 percent), eliminate personnel (57 percent), and increase class sizes (55 percent).

“It is shameful and outrageous to try to balance the federal budget on the backs of our youth,” wrote Arizona educator and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on Huffington Post. “Our greatest resource is the ingenuity and creativity of the American people—but that resource will be squandered if we fail to give our children a quality education.”

Allies in Congress agree.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) called on lawmakers on Monday to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Ultimately, she said, a federal budget “is a statement of our values, our priorities and our vision.”

Murray called out the “extreme elements” of the Republican party—those who put tax cuts for the richest before fairness for kids and working families—to stop obstructing progress by pressuring middle-of-the-road Republicans not to work with their colleagues across the aisle.

Any real solution to avoid the automatic budget cuts must include finding revenue, and the place to start is to stop giving tax handouts to the nation’s wealthiest citizens and corporations. President Obama has pledged to sign legislation that does just that, while extending tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year.

More than 3,000 national, state and local organizations are working together to raise awareness about what’s at stake if Congress allows these cuts to non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs and demand that tax reform be part of the solution. Among them are NEA, 29 of its state affiliates and 49 local affiliates. You can show your support by posting articles like this one to your social networks and using the coalition’s Twitter hash tag:  #NDDUnited.

In the coming weeks, we’ll see heroes crowned in the athletic contests in London, but who will become champions for students in Washington? Let your elected officials know it’s time to get in the game.

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