Cliff averted, but education funding still teeters on the edge
Photo by urbaer
By Amanda Litvinov
The hard work of advocates for public education and middle class opportunity paid off when Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act on Jan. 2, which established new revenues, protected the middle class from higher income tax rates and delayed across-the-board funding cuts that would have a crushing impact on public education.
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But the key word in the previous sentence is “delayed.” The arbitrary across-the-board slash to the portion of the federal budget that includes education programs could still happen in 2013 if lawmakers can’t come to an agreement before March 2 on how to replace these unwise cuts. At a minimum, education could still be hit with a cut of more than $3 billion this year.
Round 1 was bitter, but it might end up looking like a pillow fight compared to the next round in the budget battle. Republican leaders have vowed they will not go any further to restore fairness to our tax system or close wasteful corporate tax loopholes. All further deficit reduction, they say, must come from spending cuts.
Voices calling for a balanced approach that preserves programs students and working families depend on will be even more crucial in the coming weeks because of new complicating factors that raise the stakes even higher for public education:
- New factor #1: We’re going to hit the debt ceiling even sooner than expected. According to a new analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the U.S. will no longer be able to pay all of its bills beginning sometime between Feb. 15 and March 1. (Remember that the 2011 showdown around this credit limit led to the unprecedented downgrading of the U.S. government’s credit rating.) Raising this limit was once routine—it was done 18 times under President Reagan and 7 times under President George W. Bush. But this time around, some Republicans have made it clear that they will agree to raise the debt ceiling only if they can take a hatchet to spending, which means public education, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security could still be on the chopping block.
- New factor #2: The 6-month Continuing Resolution that Congress and President Obama agreed on to temporarily fund the government expires in late March. To avoid another temporary “Band-Aid” measure and the anxiety-inducing threat of a government shutdown, Congress would have to pass all 12 appropriations bills that fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.
- New factor #3: States will set next year’s budgets uncertain of how much federal money they can count on. This could result in a flurry of pink slips issued to educators and other public employees in the early spring. And that would be terrible for students, terrible for educators and their families and terrible for the economy.
Arizona math teacher and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said that while passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act was a step in the right direction, Congress cannot continue to “kick the can,” holding the fate of the middle class hostage to politics.
“Additional deep, arbitrary cuts to discretionary programs will be devastating to the programs and services that ordinary Americans depend on and inflict tremendous, irreversible harm on our nation’s 50 million students, particularly those with the greatest needs,” said Van Roekel.
“Across-the-board cuts will mean fewer educators in our schools, students crammed into already overcrowded classrooms, a shorter school week, 4-year-olds cheated out of early childhood education, and dreams dashed for aspiring college students.”
Lawmakers have a clear choice: Demand that the nation’s wealthiest pay their fair share and stop giving sweetheart deals to powerful corporations, or make the nation’s students and working families continue to bear the greatest burden of deficit reduction on their own.
Students are counting on you to contact your elected leaders as the budget battle goes on. Remind lawmakers that investing in our nation’s students is the surest path to rebuilding the middle class and a strong economy!
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