Political gamesmanship aside, Washington budget cuts would hurt real students, real people


by Félix Pérez

With the nonstop “he said, she said” fiscal cliff debate in Washington, it’s easy to see how everyday citizens would shake their heads and conclude that our elected leaders are behaving like spoiled children.

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Spoiled children or not, though, the budget cuts, if enacted, would hurt real students and real people. The numbers involved are so big as to be almost incomprehensible — services reduced or eliminated for more than 9 million students, almost $5 billion in cuts and nearly 80,000 education jobs gone.

But behind the cold, lifeless numbers are the faces and stories of everyday students and educators. Many of these people are already up against great odds, attending and working in schools, community colleges and universities that are still reeling from drastic state and county budget cutbacks.

Against that backdrop, EdVotes reached out to you. We asked what budget cuts would mean to you, your students and your schools.

The responses were overwhelming and heartfelt.

Brea Wiblemo, a high school social studies teacher in Glencoe, Minn., worries about the strain on her already-overcrowded school.

“Classrooms are put into closets and storage rooms and hallways. In our lower-income community, it is hard to get a taxpayer approved building bond to pass. I worry that poorer communities like mine would worsen while wealthier communities would manage. I worry that it would hurt our special needs students as well. It would very possibly threaten my job, as I’m a younger teacher.”

Pam Thurman, a community college instructor in Decatur, Ala., wonders how much more her students and her colleagues can withstand.

Our classrooms are overcrowded, and our teachers get $300 to reimburse them for supplies, which run much more than that. Most young people can’t afford to go to school, and all students now have to take out student loans because of the grant program being lower. Who is going to pay? Our children and their education.

A teaching veteran with 30 years of experience, Diane Mentzer, of Hagerstown, Md., chose to transfer from an affluent district to her current school, where 93 percent of students are eligible for the Free and Reduced Price Meal program.

“I am lucky to be in a school with small class size, Title I funds for special ed assistants, Title I funds for technology and support for families as well as the students. I cannot physically work any harder than I am now,” said Mentzer. “If class size were to increase, I would have to give each student less of myself. If support for families was to leave, the students would have less food, clothing and even housing. Students cannot learn when they are hungry, cold, worried, tired or stressed. School is often the only safe, loving place for the students.”

Then there is Shannon Allsop, an elementary school educator in Salt Lake City, Utah. ‘What will happen to students with disabilities should new cuts occur?’ she asked.

“Our schools are already operating with too little support staff. It is a non-winnable fight to get aides for autistic children and children with other handicaps. The classrooms are overcrowded and the equipment and supplies are often hard to obtain. And you want to give schools less?”

Click on and share the infographic below to see what cutting $5 billion from education would mean for schools.


Reader Comments

  1. when i was in school along time ago, we had no AC in elementary school. we had fans. jr high was different too we did have AC i think. when i was in high school we did have AC. we had books too!!!! I went to TSC a community college. NOW UTB has fewer students and cut jobs at the university and split partnership with TSC. This is not right at all. You see this all across the U.S. We need to go back to the days of education. Reading, writing and math. Our teachers are a blessing in their jobs at the present. Manners come from home the teacher is there to educate the child not to give manners to the child. Yes , the child does need to learn citizen ship as well. Only in elementary i think. We need to see what we need to do to make this work again for the better.

  2. I am a Speech Language Therapist in a Michigan district. This is my 30th year in education and as many other educators have recalled in their past, there were days at the beginning when we had school nurses, counselors, and appropriate class sizes. Things are very different now-unfortunately.

    In Special Education the paperwork is off the charts-insane. There is no logical reason why it should take 3-4 hours to process the paperwork/electronic work for an elementary student with a few sounds out. Multiply that by the 63 that are on my caseload currently and you will know what I do everynight after working 11-12 hour days, as well as the weekend. The national organization recommended 15 years ago that school caseloads for SLPs should be a max of 45. How did our district respond? They applied for a waiver to the state to allow us to go from 60 students to 65, thereby saving the need to hire another therapist. Add to that the concept of Medbilling.

    Our district-just as many other districts do-has their employees spend countless hours documenting the contact time with students in order to collect extra dollars in Medicaid billing. My students don’t see the benefit. (The money goes into the General Fund) Special Education budgets are slashed while the employees are spending their “extra” time logging in for hours to document for each Medicaid-eligible student so the district can get more money. How does that work out for employees?

    Well, we have had our salaries cut, were give “Furlough days” —this means you still have work to do but you are not required to come to work and you are not paid—, we pay more in insurance, and have less to spend on students. Today is my “Furlough” day and I am doing my medbilling at home. I am one of the lucky ones. I only have 12 students out of 63 who qualify for medbill. Some of my colleagues have over 30–every month to document. That means anywhere from 3-8 hours of extra paperwork per month so the district can put $ in its bank account. No new supplies for students on my caseload-just more screentime for employees. The state of Michigan has decimated public education and the demands are at the tipping point. There simply aren’t enough hours in the week for me; even if I work every evening and every weekend- to do it. I have one and a half years until retirement and am counting the days. The very best things about the job have remained for 30 years–students and colleagues. The rest of the system is imploding and the children in Washington, DC are arguing and fighting while the nation’s schools are crying for help. Representatives and Senators need to be reminded of their Kindergarten behaviors; the desired ones and WORK IT OUT.

    We are a nation that spends 700 billion a year on wars. Where does our national education budget fit in that picture? If we want a future, we need to value our children and their teachers.

    I’d love to say more, but if I don’t finish my Medbilling today I’ll probably get written up by my supervisor for being behind. (Yes-that happens) Somehow Medbilling has not been top priority for me, as the students therapy needs come first. Things are not always seen in that light when districts are in dire need of money though.

    Until I am done with my current IEP paperwork and Medbilling…hang in there to all the educators and support staff out there. To the legislators: THINK before you act. GO OUT AND SEE SCHOOLS for more than an hour. TALK to the people who are in the trenches; not to the business people behind the charter schools who want to make $.
    SHOW THIS COUNTRY that you value children and education by the laws and budgets that you endorse.

  3. I was amazed to think that these comments were submitted by teachers and the suggestion that a flat tax would be fair and the following comment or rebuttal of the suggestion by another teacher: see the following direct quote

    “Don’t be stupid. Someone making $40,000/yr. can’t afford to pay the same PERCENTAGE as someone making $300,000. And we ALL benefit from improved public ed. It’s clear that the wealthy reap the greatest benefits of all.”

    That this response could come from an educated person teaching our children was scarey.

    Ten percent flat tax example: $40,000 x 10% = $4000.
    $300,000 x 10% = $30,000. What isn’t fair about that?
    It would be wise to think for oneself rather than parrot the current chant especially since we are professionals teaching children to think, hopefully, not just mindlessly regurgitate the current right answer

  4. I am a national board certified North Carolina special education teacher. I have experienced 1st hand what happens to teachers, students and classrooms when budgets get cut for schools. These budget cuts trickled and in my case poured down and effect the classroom. I was assaulted by one of my students. When this injury occurred I was teacher of the year and one of our county finalists for county teacher of the year. Sep 14, 2011 I received a life long injury on my chest and am currently on medical leave. This injury happened because I had 14 self contained students that had Autism in one room. These limited or non verbal students have suffered due to larger class sizes. When I started my teaching I had 6 students with Autism in my classroom. The student who assaulted me had a personal assistant kindergarten though eighth grade but he was transitioned to highschool without this support. This support was dropped due to budget cuts. My para educatiors were not trained on how to work with students with Autism nor were they required to take classes on how to safely restrain aggressive students. These trainings did not occur because of budgets cuts. These budget cuts are affecting students and teachers in profound and life long ways.

    Other ways budget cuts have effected classrooms

    * teachers have to pay 2.75 per mile that any activity bus is used for community educational experience/ field trips or employment training ( this includes special Olympics)
    * Assistive technology devises are not fixed or replaced when broken
    * New technology and curriculum is not purchased
    * No pay raises for teacher or staff for three the past three years
    * New health care fees were added to basic coverage plans
    * Para Educators/teacher assistance when from a 8 hour day to a 7 hour day and thus they are not present for the entire school day that students are present.
    * gloves are not provided but the schools for student who need personal care durring the school day.

    This list could go on and on but I think everyone gets the picture. Enough is enough when budget cuts create an unsafe workplace for teachers and students.

  5. Everyone talks about the cadillac benefits that teachers have compared to the private sector. They did not care about our meager salaries or benefits when they were getting their perks, bonuses, matching 401Ks, cars, etc. We payed for all of those benefits with negotiated reduced salaries so we could take care of our families. Now those same salaries are being reduced by legislation to offset lack of funds because of the economy.
    Legislators are also destroying “public” education with takeovers and charter schools that have no accountability.

  6. I woke up with a severe sore throat at about 3 AM this morning. Speaking is hard to do without having to catch my breath between sentences. I’m an elementary art teacher and in spite of wanting to stay home today I was at school. This is because making substitute plans for 6 hours of classes from Kindergarten to fifth grade was out of the question and I knew that my kids would have been disappointed if they were given assignments from my “emergency lesson plans”. At the end of this day I am sick and tired.

    I’m not trying to pat myself on the back for my “dedication” and I fully know about the negative consequences of sharing germs. The above is to help illustrate my growing sensation of being as sick and tired of the governmental drama that is everywhere from my computer screen to my television to bumper stickers as I literally feel today. (Thanks in part to the media.)

    We try to teach our students to work together and to compromise and honestly I wonder if there are not some elementary school students who would be more adept at that than our elected officials. I am disappointed in the majority of both parties.

    I am struggling to put a child through college and hear that some group has suggested to cut out tax breaks for parents of college students. Wow thanks for that. I am struggling to pay for groceries and gas for my car and to buy clothing for my family as the prices for these things are rising grievously. God forbid that I try to take a vacation somewhere and pay it off in a reasonable amount of time – that hasn’t been possible in a long while especially since my husband lost a job and has not recovered his previous income. But hey, I have a job, clothes a car and food and gas; I should be thankful for what I have, blah, blah, blah……

    Please just give me some good news sometime soon! P-l-e-a-s-e elected officials, lawmakers, movers, shakers, people of power, get something right and turn this mess around. Our country is better than we are allowing it to be! Please! I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!

  7. Am I the only one missing the irony in this? Now the ‘Bush tax cuts’ are in demand for just the middle class. So the idea is great for middle class only, hummmm ?? And has anyone asked where the money is supposed to go if they collect more from folks earning over 100K a year ? I think this is all crazy! Make it across the board and fair. Flat tax is still the only fair tax.

    1. Don’t be stupid. Someone making $40,000/yr. can’t afford to pay the same PERCENTAGE as someone making $300,000. And we ALL benefit from improved public ed. It’s clear that the wealthy reap the greatest benefits of all.

  8. We, as veteran educators, remember the days of school nurses, school librarians, school counselors (more than one for 800+ students). At my school the teachers, principal and office staff (2 people) are called upon to manage/care for students with eminently life threatening incidents illnesses, 5150 calls for psychiatric evaluation, on top of overwhelming daily business. There is no school, or even district librarian for elementary schools and only 1 for the high schools. The middle and high schools have lost most of their counselors. Counselors also have to handle mental health crises as well as scheduling and college preparation as well as daily administrative activities. Additionally, I am physically unable to walk through most classrooms due to the overcrowding. We, the educators and school staff, are functioning on a shoe string budget as it is. As the economy fails, instances of gun violence, domestic abuse, hunger, poverty, transiency and homelessness, and lack of basic medical and dental care (several students have mouths full of cavities and pain from untreated infection), have all increased exponentially. Please imagine what will happen if more educators and staff are cut.

  9. I would like to make it mandatory that all representatives visit the lowest finacially based schools within their states.(I mean spend the entire day in a classroom) They need to experience the overcrowded classrooms and hallways before they make any decisions regarding budget cuts. Can you believe that there are schools that still dont have air conditioning? Ever try to focus on reading with sweat pouring down your back? Ever have toilet paper rationed out? Can you imagine having to cut back on paper for class assignments? No textbooks to take home and study? We provide better conditions for prisoners. Our students are our future. If we don’t invest in them now we will be pay heavily for it later.

  10. Cuts most likely would be tiered by a flat cut approach. However this method has already been used so cutting the school boards budget would most likely become an even bigger problem. A surplus can be used to offset the loss of revenue due to these cuts. However that would only work for a short period of time. The tactic to use a surplus to offset a budget is only used to buy time until those in authority can find means of offsetting such a loss. In the interim it is normally done by laying people off or restricting non-salary job related duties.

  11. Even if compassion for the student is removed from the equation to decide where spending cuts are required, does Congress really think this will help us as a country develop a more qualified/educated work force?

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