House of Representatives Slashes Education for Low-Income Kids

Almost 200,000 of this nation’s neediest children would lose their slots in Head Start programs, if U.S. Senators opt to approve a draconian federal budget passed by House Republicans last month.

On Wednesday, the Senate agreed to approve a much smaller menu of spending reductions to prevent an imminent government shutdown, which will give the body more time to consider  the longer-term measure, H.R. 1. If passed by the Senate, its $5 billion in education cuts would effectively foist the country’s financial woes onto its citizens who need the most help. In its February 25 letter to U.S. Senators, NEA called the bill a “deeply troubling resolution… with devastating consequences for students, communities, and our nation.”

As passed by the House, the bill cuts more than a billion dollars from Head Start, the proven effective program for poor preschool students. Not only would it mean eliminating slots 196,000 students, but also likely losing 26,000 jobs — a strange tactic for lawmakers to embrace during a recession marked by record highs in unemployment.

And that’s not all  – the House measure also includes a $5.6 billion cut in Pell grants, reducing or eliminating college tuition aid for almost 1.5 million low- and middle-class students; plus, $694 million in cuts to Title 1, which would reduce or eliminate services for 957,000 high-risk children and potentially causing the loss of more than 9,000 education jobs; and $337 million in cuts to School Improvement Grants, disrupting or curtailing efforts involving 483,000 students in this country’s lowest-performing schools and leading to the potential loss of another 4,440 jobs.

“It will take us in the wrong direction – away from economic recovery and the investments needed to ensure a competitive, strong nation,” wrote NEA Director of Government Relations Kim Anderson and Manager of Federal Advocacy Mary Kusler. “Particularly in these troubling economic times, we should be investing in education, not slashing resources and jeopardizing our children’s future.”

There is still an economic crisis going on, reminds John Irons, Research and Policy Director at the Economic Policy Institute. With long-term unemployment at record levels, debate about this continuing resolution isn’t “an abstract issue,” it’s actually a really important measure about whether this government will invest in job creation and financial health – or not.

“This is not moving in the right direction,” he agrees.

Many of the programs slashed by House Republicans actually hold long-term financial benefit for the government. Cuts to the Women, Infant, Children (WIC) program, for example – “are really wasteful. We’ve had data for years that show that whatever we spend in WIC ends up in larger savings to the government in terms of medical payments for delivery and post-natal care.”

Same goes for Head Start. When the poorest, most deprived children attend safe, educationally enriched preschool programs, those children get a “head start,” Irons said.  “You might achieve some short-term government savings if you cut these programs, but you’re obviously having long-term costs if kids are less prepared for succeeding in life… and are less productive as adults.”

“In many ways, this is one of the clearest examples of short-sited policy,” he said.

Job losses will result among Head Start workers – and also the parents of Head Start children, predicted Economic Policy Institute economist Heather Boushey. “To some extent, these programs make it possible for parents to stay in the labor force… (If cut), you’re also making it harder for parents to find, safe, affordable and educational-rich care for their children while they’re at work.”

The U.S. Senate will soon take action. NEA urges lawmers to make the kinds of decisions that restore fiscal discipline – but do not “jeopardize students’ education, and, in turn, all of our futures. “

(Take Action at NEA’s Legislative Action Center)