What the Bush Tax Cuts Are Costing Education

Recent polls show the public’s pessimism over the economy is on the rise, an anxiety fed by lagging job growth but also by the reckless budget-slashing on Capitol Hill. While the general idea of “cutting spending” has public support, when confronted with the details – particularly in the FY12 budget passed by the House of Representatives – most people strongly oppose gutting popular programs and critical investments in education.

There is, however, a widespread belief in the country that the wealthy don’t pay enough in taxes. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 72 percent said they favored raising taxes on the wealthy to balance the budget.

But when President Obama in April reiterated his opposition to renewing the Bush tax cuts in 2012, the House GOP leadership once again promised to block any such move. House Speaker John Boehner called any debt reduction plan that included a tax increase “unacceptable” and a “non-starter.”

These tax cuts, first passed in 2001 during President George W. Bush’s first year in office and renewed in 2010, have been one of largest contributors to a budget deficit that may soon top $1.5 trillion. According to the Congressional Budget Office, well over half of the deficit by the end of the decade will have resulted from these tax breaks.

The budget passed recently by the Republican majority, said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, is “loaded with tax breaks for the wealthy, benefits large corporate donors, and special interest groups at the expense of America’s middle class. The only thing to come from the Bush-era tax cuts is a list of names of who to thank for the irreconcilable job losses, weakening economy and understaffed schools.”

Yet the GOP leadership in the House and Senate feverishly guard the Bush tax cuts as they support proposals that place the burden of debt reduction on the backs of working families. They argue that these tax breaks are necessary to create jobs and solidify the economic recovery (if that’s the case, where were all the jobs during the Bush Administration?)

The NEA supports President Obama’s more balanced approach to debt reduction, which supports key investments in education and a growing economy – a tall order if Congress continues down the path of slashing critical programs while coddling the country’s largest corporations and wealthiest citizens.

If renewed again in 2012, the Bush tax cuts will cost the nation another $1 trillion over the next decade. Education funding will undoubtedly remain on the chopping block – especially programs that make critical investments in some of the country’s most vulnerable students.

What are some better uses for that $1 trillion? The NEA recently drew up some calculations comparing the cost of the Bush tax cuts over the next ten years with that of providing resources for programs that benefit low-income students.

  • $476 billion over the next decade would fully fund programs under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which has been underfunded for the past ten years. Currently, 20 million low-income children are in Title I programs.
  • The Individual with Disabilities Education Act could also get a boost. The government has continually fallen short of its promise to cover 40 percent of the per pupil expenditure for children with disabilities (today, the share is around 17 percent). Why not close a few loopholes for corporations and instead provide $306 billion to deliver on this promise?
  • In 1979, the maximum Pell Grant award covered three-fourths of the total cost of college attendance for low-income students. Today, the maximum award covers only about a third of college costs for the 9.4 million students currently in the program. Increasing the award by $400 each year would cost $544 billion over ten years.
  • The expansion of the Head Start program is long overdue. Today, Head Start funds enrollments for less than 1 million eligible children from families in poverty. Over the next decade, $368 billion would fund the inclusion of an additional 3.9 million children.

“We do not believe that cutting education funding and slashing programs that serve the children, the elderly, and working families is the answer,” said Kim Anderson, NEA’s Director of Government Relations. “The sad truth is that the budget [supported by the GOP House leadership] is not for the children, the working families, or the seniors. It is for the wealthy. Are we a nation that sacrifices our children to pay for the excesses of Wall Street? Or are we a nation that recognizes that investments in the middle class and those who are vulnerable lift us all up and strengthen us as a country?”


Take Action Today: Tell Your Senators to Support Children and the Middle Class

Read NEA’s Letter to the House of Representatives Opposing the House Leadership’s Budget Proposal

The Center for American Progress has a useful infographic that compares the cost of 10 safety-net programs to the cost of specific tax breaks for the wealthy.