Federal Budget 2012: Battle Brewing Over Education

President Barack Obama this week presented Congress with a lean budget that focuses scarce financial resources on education, so the next generation of Americans can succeed in the world economy.

That’s in contrast to a proposal by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) to make draconian budget cuts in the current fiscal year.

“Money is tight in every American household,” said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel. “In tough economic times, it’s reassuring that President Obama continues to make education a national priority by calling for important investments in quality public education to keep America moving forward. Reckless cuts, like those proposed by the House Appropriations Committee Chairman, would dash the dreams of countless American students and stall the engine that drives our economy.”

Rogers is seeking deep budget cuts to the tune of $100 billion in the current fiscal year, which is already underway. Congress has been passing stopgap “continuing resolutions” to keep government programs operating. Rogers’ proposal would effective gut special education grants to local school districts, Head Start for children and Pell Grants to disadvantaged college students, among other proven programs.

In Head Start, Rogers’ proposed $1 billion cut would eliminate slots for 127,000 children at a time when child poverty is growing, and in the face of solid research proving quality preschool changes lives.

In higher education, Pell grants would be cut $5.6 billion in Rogers’ proposal. These grants make it possible for low and middle-income families to pay for college so their children can gain the skills they need for more productive careers.

Rogers’ cuts would also put additional strain on state budgets already cut to the bone. Wisconsin, for example, faces a two-year budget deficit of $3.6 billion. Ellsworth Community School District in Wisconsin is slashing 24 of its 150 school personnel positions to save $1.1 million.

One of the educators not returning next year is Shelly Moore, a 13-year English and drama high school teacher at Ellsworth Community High School. Moore teaches grades 9-12. She also is the school’s only Advanced Placement instructor. Moore took her message to Congress last week, reminding lawmakers that investing in education is the right thing to do for students, communities and the nation.

“This is devastating,” said Moore. “How am I going to look at my students in the eye and tell them I won’t be here next year to help them? In all my years teaching, I’ve never seen so little regard for our future. We have to put students first.”