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'Fiscal Cliff': Colorful Metaphor Can't Obscure Stark Reality

Across-the-board cuts hurt real people, notably children

By Dennis Van Roekel
November 16, 2012

The end of the 2012 election is no doubt a relief to most Americans, but Congress still has its hardest work ahead. Over the next two months lawmakers must decide whether to avert automatic budget cuts that were set in motion a year ago, as well as the fate of tax cuts from the Bush era.

The process is bound to get ugly, and Americans weary of politics will be tempted to tune it all out. That would be a mistake, because colorful metaphors about “lame duck” and “fiscal cliff” can’t obscure the stark reality: If Congress allows massive across-the-board cuts to education programs, the consequences will be vivid and harmful to America’s children.

Even if Congress takes a balanced approach by allowing tax breaks to expire for the wealthiest two percent of Americans, some cuts to programs that serve children would probably still be unavoidable. If Congress fails to avoid reckless across-the-board cuts, federal education and early childhood programs will be devastated. Based on information from the Congressional Budget Office, NEA has calculated that 9.3 million students would be directly affected by almost $5 billion in cuts.

These cuts would eliminate spots for 78,000 children in Head Start programs, depriving them of a chance to succeed in school before they even begin. It would reduce financial aid for more than two million college students, slamming the door of opportunity shut for many. It would slash Title I aid by $1.1 billion, cutting assistance to almost 1.8 million students who live in poverty.

At a time when we should redouble our efforts to train Americans for good jobs, across-the-board cuts would slash $142 million from technical, vocational and literacy education programs that serve 1.2 million adults. Special education programs serving 476,000 students would be gutted by almost $1 billion, and support for rural school districts with 437,000 students would also collapse.

The cuts would also devastate Medicaid, which provides the health care for one-third of our nation’s children. As educators, we know these students can’t do their best work in school if they can’t see a doctor when they are sick.

All of these programs help children become engaged, productive members of society, and cutting them deeply and indiscriminately would erode our nation’s future. Instead of making political deals that allow this to happen, Congress must take a thoughtful and balanced approach that protects the programs and priorities important to ordinary Americans. And, yes, that includes asking the wealthiest Americans and corporations to pay their fair share to make our nation stronger.

NEA, with our state and local affiliates, helped elect many members of Congress from both political parties who will make these important decisions. Now that the election is over, we’re not going to tune out. We will continue to remind lawmakers what’s at stake for our nation’s children.