The 11th hour budget agreement reached last Friday between President Obama and Congressional leaders may have staved off a federal government shutdown, but who will be paying the price? It looks like many of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, according to the just-released final details of the agreement.
More than half of the $38 billion in cuts in the FY2011 bill, or continuing resolution (CR) — described as the largest-ever reduction in U.S. domestic spending — were in education, health and labor (See this chart for the full slate of cuts). President Obama described the measures as “painful” but necessary. The National Education Association (NEA), while recognizing the need to address the nation’s budget deficit, opposes the budget deal because it cuts critical education programs that provide essential services to students with the greatest needs.
“Everyone must make hard choices during these tough economic times, but our kids should not bear the brunt of the burden,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.
Although the CR protects funding for Pell Grants and Head Start, NEA is concerned specifically about the impact of cuts in proven programs like Title I and IDEA.
In a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives released on Tuesday, Kim Anderson and Mary Kusler, NEA’s director of government relations and manager of federal advocacy, respectively, wrote: “Congress has long recognized the critical role that federal funding plays in attempting to level the playing field for poor students, as well as its promise to provide funding necessary to provide students with disabilities services to which they are legally entitled. Cutting such programs and relying increasingly on competitive grants to distribute any increases in education funding will not ensure students the resources they need to succeed.”
The budget deal, say Anderson and Kusler, represents an abandonment of Congress’s historic support for and responsibility to provide basic aid to all states.
NEA also opposes the use of taxpayer dollars to fund private school vouchers for the District of Columbia—a program that is neither successful for students, nor supported by local government. The inclusion of the voucher program in the CR is particularly troublesome, given the cuts to other programs and the overall scarcity of dollars. Instead, NEA urges Congress to fund education programs that prepare all students for the jobs of the future, not ineffective programs that allow a few students and parents to choose a private school at taxpayer expense.
Cutting spending for education will not only hurt students, it will hurt the U.S. economy. Research has consistently demonstrated that a robust economy depends on investments in education. In addition to widespread productivity increases, the higher earnings of educated workers generate higher tax payments at the local, state, and federal levels. Targeting programs that contribute to this goal is misguided and counterproductive
“It is shortsighted to use scarce taxpayer dollars to fund an unsuccessful voucher program,” Van Roekel said, “while cutting funds for important education services, Medicaid and other programs that deliver essential services that students need. Congress should go back to the drawing board and find a solution that doesn’t harm America’s students. Students should be a top priority, not an afterthought.”