The Sequester Effect: Michigan teacher says cuts hurt neediest students most


by Colleen Flaherty

The end of the school year was tense for reading recovery specialist Leeanne Brookfield and dozens of her colleagues at Prairie Ridge Elementary in Kalamazoo, Mich., as they waited to find out just how profoundly the sequester cuts would hurt their students.

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“My position, as well as most of the reading recovery teachers in our district positions were cut, and that was because of the federal sequester,” said Brookfield.

Her elementary school receives much of its funding from Title I, federal aid to low-income schools. The program will lose more than $740 million nationwide thanks to the reckless sequester cuts.

“It wasn’t just teachers, but other things in the school that come from Title I, from professional tutors, materials, books for kids to be sent home, math and reading stuff, after school programs for helping kids get caught up, all kinds of stuff,” said Brookfield.

Luckily, her school managed to cover the costs and prevented layoffs for the 2013-14 school year.

“It was like a miracle, I got to tell you. We were crying.”

However, as Brookfield pointed out, many schools just like hers will not be so lucky. In Michigan alone, there will be more than $80 million in federal funding cuts from education, and there will be no additional funding from the state.

“We’ve said from the start that Michigan would not be replacing lost federal dollars with state dollars due to sequestration and that still holds true,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in a statement.

There have been education staff cuts across the state, including 233 pink slips issued to teachers in Ann Arbor, 77 employees laid off in the Flint School District and 350 teachers and support staff at Ypsilanti Public Schools and Willow Run Community Schools have received pink slips.

Brookfield is most worried for schools like hers in low-income communities that will be hit hardest due to these across-the-board cuts, not to mention the students who are helped by programs like hers.

Leeanne Brookfield
Leeanne Brookfield

“It’s just a devastating thing. These people don’t understand how important these monies are for our students.”

As a reading intervention specialist, Brookfield works with students as young as six when they are struggling with reading and provides intense and individualized instruction.

“These are the kids who did not get the early reading stimulation and vocabulary development at home before they entered school. These are the kids whose parents are the working poor, who cannot afford private preschool that teaches academics,” said Brookfield. “These are the kids who will not have Head Start anymore to put them on a level playing field with the kids who have had advantages of preschool.”

Brookfield said that this early intervention is critical to a student’s long-term success, especially for those who are struggling at home. She recalls one student she worked with who was in first grade and recently lost his mother.

“He was just lost. He was struggling with dealing with his mother being gone, living with a new person and trying to succeed in school. He had a very tough time succeeding in kindergarten.”

She worked with him and, according to Brookfield, he “really started cooking” in second and third grade where he made considerable progress.

“That experience helped shape him from a kid who would probably just be running the streets by now being in a gang to a kid who felt like he could succeed. And we do this with kids all the time.”

Some are more dramatic stories than others, but any child who you work with like this who has come to you with a sense of shame and embarrassment and not wanting to try, you changed their lives when they feel ‘I can do it.’ They get their confidence going and they feel like, ‘I’m important enough.’ And that was the thing with this little boy.

As the impacts of the sequester take hold of our nation’s schools and take valuable resources from students who need it most, Brookfield has a message for Congress:

“Just come to my school. Come and see, sit in a session with me when I work with a kid or go to a classroom and visit for a while. I’m not talking about a cute little classroom where there’s a 20 kids to one teacher ratio. I’m talking about a real classroom, a school with real challenges and watch how we work with kids, and you’ll get an idea of why we cannot have our funding cut.”

You can take action right now to urge your members of Congress to protect education funding.

Reader Comments

  1. Let’s look at the big picture for our children. Soon they will have to pay double the interest rate for student loans; this action alone will cut opportunities for their and our future growth. With the cuts to early intervention programs and Title I, learning and opportunity for future success will be that much more difficult for many of our children.

    If you support these developments, please send a Thank You note to John Boehner and his Republican cronies. If not, join me in working for their defeat in the next election cycle!

  2. The sequestration money is needed so that Obama can take expensive vacations, pay $100,000 per year to his dog’s trainer, and hold expensive parties at the White House. Education and hot meals for servicemen need to take second place to Obama’s needs for self-indulgence.

    1. Let everyone in congress take paycuts and downsize their staff. Ifs it’s good enough for one it’s good enough for all

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