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What if the Super-Committee Fails? What Does it Mean for Education?

November 21, 2011

Valerie Strauss brings up an interesting point in her Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post.  I have thought about this many times since our feckless leaders in Congress put off doing the obvious with regard to the budget situation.  When I say the “obvious” I mean the right-in-your-face-stupidly-simple solution of letting the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthy expire and closing tax loopholes and subsidies for corporations and major agri-farms.  Done, simple!

If we were to let the Bush tax-cuts expire, we could balance the budget with that alone so say the policy wonks.  Can anyone think of a decent reason NOT to do that?

But, you see we have a Congress that is completely bought and paid for, those with an (R) after their names are beholden to a little dwarfish man named Grover Norquist with whom they signed an unconstitutional pledge to never raise taxes.

Can anyone think of a good reason why Republican members of Congress took an oath to this little man which takes priority over their constitutional oath to serve the members of their constituency?

Well, the bad news for teachers, special education teachers, general education teachers, Title I school teachers and all of the millions of students that we service is that the automatic cuts triggered by the failure of the super-committee will really hurt.  Posted below are some of the ramifications:

Failure of the congressional supercommittee tasked with reducing the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion could lead to across-the-board budget cuts, which would have a serious impact on already-distressed public education funding.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected what could happen to public education if the trigger is pulled and across-the-board cuts kick in in January 2013. There are new reports that the supercommittee is getting ready to admit that its Republican and Democratic members couldn’t compromise after several months of negotiations — this after Congress itself couldn’t reach an agreement.

(Legislators should be mighty proud of the terrific lesson they are giving school children everywhere on the subject of democratic government — which can only function with compromise — but that’s another story.)

According to the budget office, education funding would be subject to reductions ranging from 7.8 percent (in 2013) to 5.5 percent (in 2021).

What does that really mean for students?

In a letter sent last month to the supercommittee, the National Education Association said a 7.8 percent cut in fiscal year 2013 would mean a reduction in $3.54 billion in education funding. That includes:

*$1.1 billion from Title I, a federal program that provides additional resources to disadvantaged students. This would impact almost 1.5 million students

*$896 million from the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act,affecting more than a half-million students, and

*$590 million from Head Start, affecting more than 75,000 young children.

Public education budgets around the country have already taken big hits over the last few years. According to a recent report released by the White House, called “Teacher Jobs at Risk,” nearly 300,000 educator jobs have been lost since 2008, which accounts for 54 percent of all job losses in local governments. That is a 7.2 percent drop between 2007-08 and 2010-11. It also warns that some 227,000 more education jobs will be lost next year.

These cuts have had direct and unfortunate impacts on schools everywhere. Here are excerpts of letters received by the NEA from teachers about budget cut effects:

From a Washington state teacher:

“I work at a Title 1 school where close to 100% of our students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Art and music have been cut from our school, technology assistance has been cut from our district in a major way, and now our counselor is only with us 2 days a week. With all that they are dealing with at home, most of our students could use a daily session with a counselor/psychologist session. But now that support is not there, making it incredibly difficult for them to learn and stay focused.”

From a California teacher:

“Due to budget cuts, we lost the teacher who operated the reading program for our poorest non-special education readers. Those students are now in regular English classes, where they will be hard-pressed to do the required work. Our custodial and clerical staffs have been decimated. Most classes now have over 40 students in them.”

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