The news out of Washington hasn’t been very appealing this Congressional session, and many may have lost interest since the Fiscal Cliff was avoided in January. However, this Friday another self-inflicted deadline looms, and with Congress showing no sign of willingness to come to the table to resolve the problem, it’s time to pay attention. This deadline is called ”sequestration” – a term that means “removal,” or “confiscation.” It will literally be the removal of federal funds from the economy. It is the result of the poison pill that was agreed upon in 2011 when Congress almost refused to raise the country’s debt limit (and thus its credit standing in the world). The President proposed sequestration of federal funds as a way to motivate Congress to work on a compromised budget. The House leadership at the time was extremely satisfied with the idea. Now, the deadline has arrived. The media may prefer to pontificate about who is to blame for sequestration, but the real story is who will be hurt by it.
The cuts are brutal, across-the-board slashes of federal funding. The various federal departments have very little control over what they must cut – the immediate austerity will be broadly imposed upon them. The idea was that Congress would never want the country to face such pain, and so of course they would agree upon a budget before that happens! Now it has become clear that there does not actually seem to be much concern about enacting these cuts (especially because they are just today returning from a ten-day holiday).
As educators, we face even more insult added to injury because some of the most severe cuts will be funding that goes to state education budgets. Close to a billion dollars of K-12 funding will be cut, which will mean thousands of teacher positions. You can see how the cuts will affect education in your state by clicking here. In states like Oregon, which already faces large cuts to their state education budget, this will only make the situation more painful for schools and students. Unlike Congress Members’ own salaries, education funding is not constitutionally protected (there is no federal mandate to protect education in the U.S. Constitution). So like other departments, such as the Federal Aviation Administration and Border Security, the cuts will be swift and broad.
As an example, Wisconsin, which already struggles from massive public sector cuts and removal of state workers’ rights, will face the loss of $8.5 million in K-12 education and $10 million for aides and programs that help students with disabilities. In Georgia, where just last week the President visited to tout new preschool policies there, the schools will lose $28.6 million in overall K-12 funding and $17.5 million in aides and programs for students with disabilities.
Over 30,000 teaching positions around the country could be affected by sequestration cuts. Of course, that is only the immediate effect of the loss of federal funding. It does not include how states will have to adjust to the limitations to their budgets in other areas, which could affect education spending. It also does not include the long-term affect on teaching positions that could occur. Sequestration invites a terrible cycle of austerity that will only hurt our most vulnerable citizens: our students. In addition to basic K-12 cuts, thousands of children will lose childcare, vaccine and Head Start opportunities, and college students will lose work-study assistance.
It is Congress that must vote to deal with the budget and it will only be an act of Congress that can stop the Sequestration on March 1st. Take some time this week to contact your Member of Congress and remind them of how crucial education is for our entire society’s health and welfare; and how these cuts will hurt your state. Teachers can no longer stand on the sidelines and wait for our schools and our students to be provided for. We must become relentless advocates for our own profession, and now is the time to take action.
To buy Cari’s book that details her sudden unemployment, “How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks” please click here.