by Colleen Flaherty
As Congress begins to lay the groundwork for the 2014 budget, NDD United—an alliance of more than 3,200 national, state and local organizations—released a comprehensive report on the harmful impact of sequestration. The report, Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer and Less Secure, looks at how distressing the drastic sequester cuts have been to millions of Americans, especially families and children.
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“The decisions of 535 people at the Capitol—like an across-the-board cut to federally-funded programs—can have devastating effects on Americans,” said Emily Holubowich, co-chair of NDD United. “’Faces of Austerity’ shines a light on the actual people behind the programs being cut by Washington’s budget recklessness.”
Since the across-the-board cuts went into effect in March of this year, federal education spending has been cut by roughly $3 billion. The report looked closely at data and stories from real people, especially those who work with low-income children and children with special needs.
Head Start, a program that provides preschool for children from low-income families, has already had to cut 57,000 students from their classrooms thanks to federal budget cuts.
“Children who enroll in head Start are more likely to enter kindergarten on grade level and ready to learn,” according to the report. “In addition to cognitive development, Head Start promotes the social and emotional development of children through comprehensive education, health, nutrition and social services.”
Sharliyn Cano is the Human Resources Director for the Southern Oregon Head Start where cuts have seriously compromised the 53 Head Start and 14 Early Head Start classrooms she oversees. Her program has seen huge staff losses, classrooms closures and elimination of their after-care program.
“Right now we have a wait list of 261 kids, and I expect that number to grow as we move further into the school year,” said Cano. “If we had the money, we would absolutely enroll those students.”
In some states, programs have resorted to a lottery to determine which students would lose their seats. When one in four children live in poverty, the needs of programs like Head Start are growing while the budget continues to be cut.
I don’t understand the logic of these cuts – no one does. I know for a fact that we have children in our centers who get the very best meal, with the best food, and the fullest amount of food of anything they get all day while they are with us. But unfortunately it’s the kids who now bear the brunt of these cuts. People need to understand that in order to ‘pull yourself up by your boot straps,’ you first need to have bootstraps. These cuts are not making things any easier.
Special Education Funding
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding helps schools provide the necessary early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. Despite the number of students with special needs increasing, sequestration resulted in approximately $579 million in cuts for special education services for children ages 3 to 21.
Marcie Lipsitt is a parent advocate for the National Center for Learning Disabilities in Michigan where $20 million has been cut in IDEA dollars.
“As a parent of a child with special needs and advocate to thousands of families in my state, I am watching the promise of IDEA and special education become more and more elusive and too many students will not be prepared for post-secondary education and the global workforce,” said Lipsitt.
“Sequestration is sending a powerful message to children at risk and with disabilities, that their right to a public education does not matter, and neither does their productivity and place in America’s future.”
Impact Aid, which has been cut by $67.5 million, serves 11 million students by helping districts that have a big federal presence make up for lost tax revenue.
“Impact Aid assists roughly 1,350 local school districts with concentrations of children residing on Indian lands, military bases, low-rent housing properties and other federal properties. Combined, these districts enrolled more than 950,000 federally connected children, with a total combined student enrollment of more than 12 million children in 2011,” according to the report.
For some of these school districts, Impact Aid can supply as much as 75 percent of the local education operating budget. The Shannon County School District in South Dakota, located entirely on an Indian reservation, has had to make staff cuts that have resulted in larger class sizes and eliminated programs.
“I hope the Congress understands the impact their actions have on these Native American communities. For an essential program like Impact Aid, when that money is cut it has such a huge impact, since schools are a key part of the community on reservations,” said Coy Sasse, the district manager.
As Congress begins budget discussion, groups like NDD United push for an end to the arbitrary and draconian sequester cuts and to fund programs that provide for our nation’s most vulnerable.