It has been more than three weeks since President Barack Obama’s re-election to a second term and the United States still looks like “divided states”. At issue now is a “fiscal cliffhanger”, where the uncertainty of the plot hangs in the balance of Congressional corporation or not. As the clock rapidly ticks toward the last full week of December, Congress must make a number of serious financial decisions. While both Democrats and Republicans can agree on the value of developing a strong educational system, the looming Fiscal Cliff may leave education with more long term problems. A drop off the Fiscal Cliff could mean billions of dollars in cuts impacting local school districts in Metro Atlanta and nationally.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) says, “The sequestration or automatic cuts to the federal budget would result in increased class sizes … the elimination of after-school and summer-school programs, a narrowing of the curriculum, the closing of school libraries, and more.” The group says if Congress can’t “steer” the country away from the Fiscal Cliff, education will take a devastating hit.
On Wednesday President Barack Obama told the American public, “If both parties agree we should not raise taxes on middle-class families, let’s begin our work on where we agree…Let’s keep middle-class taxes low. That’s what our economy needs. That’s what the American people deserve”.
Everyone can agree that budget cuts are necessary, and the middle class should not bear it all. But the real challenge is finding balance while meeting the public mandate that calls for all Americans to pay their fair share. What appears to be holding up the progress and threating education is a little tax fight over a big issue for the wealthy.
Some Senate Republicans are open to re-thinking and abandoning the 20 year old Taxpayer Protection Pledge that includes holding on to the Bush Tax Cuts which changed the highest marginal income tax rate from 39.6 percent to the highest rate of 35 percent. But House Republicans, as a whole, still appear to not want to abandon the two decade old Grover Norquist’s tax pledge or the Bush Tax Cuts, which from both the Democrats point of view and some economists, is a proven way to help keep the country from flying off the Fiscal Cliff in January. If there is no solid deal by January 2, it could mean Wall Street panic, all that comes with a recession, and an estimated 2-3 thousand dollars extra in tax burdens on middle and working class families. The immediate educational impact includes making it harder for parents to send their kids to college and effecting young college graduates ready to work.
If Congress fails to act by the end of the year there will be a reported 8 percent across-the-board cut in education, including slashing $5 billion from the national education budget which will be devastating to local school districts. The National Education Association (NEA) is calling on its members and parents to petition Congress with the “Kids Not Cuts” pledge urging leaders to take a balanced approach to deficit reduction and reject more cuts to education. The NEA’s list of some areas that would be impacted if there is no responsible deal made before January 2013 includes:
*Services cut or eliminated for more than 9 million students, including 1.8 million students living in poverty and receiving Title 1 services.
*69,000 students in our neediest schools will suffer with cuts to School Improvement Grants.
*Students with disabilities will receive fewer services due to a drop in funding to 2006 levels, despite a 27 percent rise in costs since then.
*Rural education will be cut by $15 million, even though rural schools have absorbed a 70 percent increase in school enrollment.
*Nearly 80,000 education jobs will be lost at early childhood, elementary, secondary and postsecondary levels.
And now that some Republicans are considering Bush Tax Cut negotiations, only if Democrats consider cuts in entitlement programs, there is concern about cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all Medicaid enrollees are children. One in three children in the United States uses services provided by Medicaid. Even the 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows that a healthier student leads to a better school performance. So in this case the hope is that congress looks at areas that do not directly impact enrollees of these entitlement programs, but still address waste. Another critical issue is that since Congress is not in agreement over what should be consider for cuts, a rushed, last minute deal could still leave education in serious trouble.
Holding the nation hostage over the Bush Tax Cuts for the benefit of about 2 percent of Americans is problematic for many reasons. But more importantly is the fact that this topic has been easily manipulated. The main controversy centers on if the tax cuts have been effective in spurring sufficient growth and job creations as its supporters say. Or is it what its critics say; one that has largely benefited the highest income households and increased the budget deficit by shifting the tax burden from the rich to the middle and working classes.
At the end of the day improving public education is still vital to American’s success. The calendar year leading to the Fiscal Cliff ends shortly, but the fight appears to be on the long road. Many educators and parents are sending a message to Congress through phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, emails and letters. The message is that the nation’s students deserve better…no more cuts to education.