by Colleen Flaherty
After 16 days of a government shutdown—which has closed Head Start to thousands of children, furloughed over 800,000 federal employees and compromised essential government programs for our nation’s most vulnerable thanks to a GOP faction in the House of Representatives—Congress has finally passed an agreement to reopen the government and avoid a debt default.
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“After more than two weeks of unnecessary turmoil and pain, we are relieved that Congress has finally reached a bipartisan agreement to get past, for now, the current crisis,” said NEA President and Arizona teacher Dennis Van Roekel.
Senate Democratic and Republican leaders reached a deal that will fund the government until January 15 and raise the debt ceiling until February 7. It was passed by the House late last night and signed by President Obama at 12:30 a.m. Thursday.
“Though this is an improvement, it is by no means a triumph. While it prevents the economic calamity that a debt default would bring, reopens the federal government and stops a long-term locking in of devastating sequester cuts, it only delays the same battles for a few months,” said Van Roekel. “During that time, we are hopeful that more reasonable voices will prevail so that we do not relive this saga again.”
When the government reopens, the budget will still be operating, until Jan. 15, at post-sequestration levels, which already cut $3 billion from federal education funding and disproportionately affected children in higher-poverty communities in the previous fiscal year. Since Congress allowed sequester level cuts to be enacted earlier this year, 57,000 children have been cut from Head Start classes, Impact aid for low-income schools has been drastically reduced and school districts across the nation are hurting from these drastic federal budget cuts.
But the agreement prevented a long-term locking in of those cuts; instead, it provides an opportunity for Congress to replace the sequester cuts in a final 2014 funding bill. Van Roekel urges Congress to not just avoid another catastrophic shutdown, but to come together to support community schools and programs that help our nation’s poor and middle class.
“We remain deeply committed to pushing Congress to find a responsible, balanced and long-term plan to replace the sequester cuts, avoid further pain on students, families and communities and ensure that the wealthiest and corporations pay their fair share, including by closing costly tax loopholes.”