By Amanda Litvinov
For the children of America’s service men and women, uncertainty is a fact of life, especially during a time of war. These boys and girls never know when their mom or dad, older siblings, uncles and aunts and family friends might be deployed, and if they are, when they will see them again.
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Never before have these children faced the prospect that the adults they count on in their schools might not be around for them either. But because Congress failed to stop the reckless, across-the-board sequester cuts that kicked in March 1, Defense Department schools face the potential of mandatory furloughs that could close their doors.
“This has never happened before. We have never shut down the schools that educate children of our military personnel,” said Michael Priser, president of the Federal Education Association (FEA), which represents more than 6,000 educators in Europe, Asia and the United States.
Like all Department of Defense employees, nearly 15,000 DoD educators could be furloughed up to 22 days between April 25 and the end of September, presenting potentially disastrous problems given the school calendar.
“There’s no way for our schools to be closed 22 days into that time period without having a dramatic toll on these kids’ education,” said Priser, citing important spring activities like completing college applications, NAEP testing and AP exams.
Even worse, the closings will make it impossible for educators to fulfill mandated instruction minutes for special education students—a violation of federal law—and DoD schools could lose their accreditation, which would affect students’ college opportunities.
Educators know that the school shutdowns will take a toll on already stressed military parents, who may face issues finding additional child care, especially since child care services on base are also subject to the furloughs.
“I have always told our active duty parents that while they are serving in war to protect our country, we as educators will do everything we can to take care of their children,” said one DoD teacher in Alabama (EdVotes has chosen to quote DoD educators anonymously).
“This is no longer true if we put their kids out of school for 22 days, causing military families additional stress and worry. This is such a sad day for these children.”
“Is this how we thank our service men and women?” asked another educator from a DoD school in Virginia.
“For these children, school is one of the things that holds them together, that they feel secure about when they have to move or when a parent deploys. These schools are their extended family.”
The sequester cuts compound the ill effects of other budget cuts that hit DoD schools and employees. Educators, already under a two-year salary freeze, could now face up to an 11 percent pay cut thanks to the sequester furloughs.
“In the past, the schools have always been considered mission essential, and now it appears someone at the Pentagon has decided they are not,” said FEA President Priser. “There has to be somewhere to cut the budget, but we shouldn’t do it by closing down kids’ schools.”
Schools on military bases are feeling the pinch first, but things aren’t looking too rosy for civilian schools, either.
With U.S. public schools losing $3 billion in federal funding to the sequester cuts, schools districts across the nation are expected to issue a flurry of pink slips to educators in the coming weeks, resulting in ballooning class sizes and less individualized instruction for students.
Today is the deadline for preliminary layoff notices in California. It has been reported that fewer than 3,000 notices are expected to go out—a fraction of the 26,000 the state issued in 2010. But assuming Congress does not reverse the sequester cuts, a high percentage of those layoffs will become a reality, especially in districts with fewer than 2,500 students, which is the majority of districts in the Golden State.
For students, every single educator layoff matters.
“We already have class sizes over 40, no libraries or computer labs, one nurse for 5,000 students and no art or music in our district,” said Marian Cruz, a teacher from Hollister, California.
“More cuts is not what is needed to educate our students.”