Posted In: Arkansas, Colorado, Educator Voices, Kids Not Cuts, Missouri, Moving in Congress, Virginia
By Colleen Flaherty and Johntel Greene
Educators from across the country came to Washington, D.C., today to deliver a message to members of Congress: Strike a budget deal that supports the nation’s school children and the middle class.
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“I think it’s important to remind our Senators and members of Congress that we have to protect the middle class and protect American core values -– Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and education,” said Meg Gruber, president of the Virginia Education Association.
If Congress doesn’t pass a budget deal, 8 percent, across-the-board cuts for fiscal year 2013 will hack $5 billion from almost all federal education programs. Without this federal funding, already overburdened states will face wrenching decisions in trying to make up the difference.
“In Virginia, if the proposed cuts were to go through, we’d lose a significant amount of money for our neediest children, our rural schools, and we’d be looking at larger class sizes because we’d probably lose over thirteen hundred educators,” said Gruber.
Gruber and more than a dozen other educator-activists, all leaders in their state NEA affiliates, came to Capitol Hill to share their stories with members of Congress as part of “National Labor Lobby Day,” an initiative of a labor coalition that includes NEA.
Chris Guinther, President of Missouri NEA, was a special education teacher for more than 20 years in a school just outside of St. Louis. She worries about the future of the programs she used to work with.
“Missouri is already underfunded, so any further cuts from the federal government will put that burden on our state. We can’t absorb any more cuts,” said Chris Guinther, President of the Missouri NEA.
“We know that some of the cuts will be in the area of special education, which would definitely impact the students I used to work with,” she said.
To stave off impending cuts, Congress must come to a budget agreement. But it is crucial that the deal doesn’t come at the expense of education and programs such as Medicaid, which is vital to America’s neediest children.
“If some in Congress get their way and shift to the states the cost of providing Medicaid service to millions of low-income children, seniors and persons with disabilities, it will mark one of the most significant retreats from the historic federal role to ensure that basic human needs are met,” said educator and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said.
“At a time when one of every five children lives in poverty and one-third of all children receive their primary source of healthcare from Medicaid, it would be a grievous abdication of our responsibility to America’s neediest children to exacerbate their challenges with devastating cuts.”
Donna Morey, a high school teacher and Special Olympics coach, works in Little Rock, Arkansas, where 77 percent of her students receive free or reduced-price lunch.
“The special services that Medicaid provides are essential. We’ve got to have healthy children if they’re going to learn. This is what’s so important,” said Morey.
Educators speak out on the fiscal cliff
The labor union coalition, which includes the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is asking Congress to protect tax cuts for the middle class while asking the rich to pay their fair share to protect funding for education and important social programs.
“We want to make sure that the wealthiest two percent are paying their fair share because the middle class, hard-working Americans, they’ve been paying through the cuts that we’ve taken over the last few years,” said Kerrie Dallman, President of the Colorado Education Association. “It’s time we stop sticking kids and families with the tab.”
Missouri NEA President Guinther believes her message was understood—and appreciated—by most of the members of Congress she spoke with.
“I think the fact that we were all here and can convey to these members of Congress that we understand what tough choices they have to make helps us get our message across to them,” Guinther said.
“We can acknowledge that we’re all in this together and we will all be in this on the other side when decisions are made about the future of funding that affects our kids.”