Letter to the Budget Committee
April 05, 2011
On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to express our strong opposition to the FY 2012 budget proposal being marked-up in committee this week. The budget resolution should reflect the priorities of our nation. Unfortunately, the proposed budget reflects the wrong priorities, choosing to meet arbitrary budget targets on the backs of the middle class and our most vulnerable populations. Research clearly demonstrates that investments in education help grow the economy. A budget that ignores this research is short-sighted at best. We urge the committee to reject this proposal. We also urge your support for an amendment by Representative Honda that would provide sufficient funding to block all cuts below the 2010 level for Head Start and elementary and secondary education services.
Educators understand that Congress must work to ensure America’s long-term economic prosperity. And, we recognize that we must address the nation’s serious fiscal challenges. However, we do not believe that cutting education funding, which will cause ballooning class sizes and a dramatic reduction in services to students, is the right way to address these challenges. Slashing programs that serve children, the elderly, and working families is also not the answer. We should instead be looking for ways to increase revenue responsibly and to close tax loopholes that do nothing to strengthen our economy.
Investing in education should be a top priority for the budget resolution. Yet, the proposed budget all but ignores proven education programs, and focuses instead on slashing critical student financial aid and funneling taxpayer dollars to private schools. This is shortsighted policy that will jeopardize our students’ future and the future strength of our nation. Investing in education makes both good fiscal sense and good public policy. In addition to widespread productivity increases, the higher earnings of educated workers generate higher tax payments at the local, state, and federal levels. Consistent productive employment reduces dependence on public income-transfer programs and all workers, regardless of education level, earn more when there are more college graduates in the labor force. (Education Pays, The College Board, 2007).
We strongly oppose provisions in the budget proposal that would undermine efforts to improve education, as well as those that would harm those who can least afford cuts to the programs on which they rely. Specifically, we oppose:
- Cutting non-security discretionary spending below 08 levels and freezing it at that level for five years. The bulk of the 10-year deficit reduction comes from cutting non-security discretionary spending — a devastating blow to children, working families, and our most vulnerable populations. Our nation’s economic strength and future success depend on our ability to innovate, educate, and compete in the global marketplace. Failing to invest when investment is called for is a plan for permanent austerity, not long-term success.
- Dismantling health care for the poor, disabled, and elderly by turning Medicaid into a block grant program. The block grant proposal would actually cost states and the federal government more money due to cut backs and limits on health care services for Medicaid beneficiaries. It is clear that the proposed changes to Medicaid would put additional pressures on stretched state budgets and would, therefore, have a direct, negative impact on the resources available for students and schools.
We are also deeply concerned about the impact of this proposal on the students in our schools. Of the 68 million people covered by Medicaid in 2010, half are children under the age of 19, whose families depend on Medicaid for health care coverage. Children who lack access to health care services are less likely to come to school healthy and ready to learn and to succeed academically.
- Returning Pell grants to their pre-stimulus levels. Maintaining and increasing Pell Grant awards is critical to ensuring students’ access to higher education. Cutting Pell Grants is not the answer to balancing the budget. It simply serves to restrict access to the higher education so essential for success in today’s economy. Without the federal commitment to student financial aid, there will not be enough educated, skilled Americans to sustain economic recovery, or to secure our nation's future for the next generation.
- Extending the District of Columbia Voucher Program. It is simply wrong to funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to private schools while cutting programs that help millions of students in public schools. Vouchers are not real education reform. Pulling 1,200 children out of a system that serves 65,000 doesn’t solve problems — it ignores them. Our focus should be on strategies proven to increase student achievement, such as increasing parental involvement, strengthening teacher training, and reducing class size. And, our goal should be to prepare all students for the jobs of the future, not to allow a few students and parents to choose a private school at taxpayer expense.
- Converting Medicare into a voucher system. Contrary to the rhetoric surrounding this proposal, beneficiaries would likely find that their voucher would not allow them to purchase a package of benefits comparable to that which Medicare now provides, since traditional Medicare generally pays less to providers and incurs lower administrative expenses than private insurance. In addition, insurers would be allowed to charge older and sicker Medicare beneficiaries higher premiums and would surely attempt to reject enrollees in poor health (who cost much more), as private plans do today in the Medicare Advantage program.
We urge the committee to support an amendment by Representative Honda that would provide sufficient funding to block all cuts below the 2010 level to federal funding for Head Start and to elementary and secondary education services. The amendment would pay for restoring this critical funding by eliminating egregious tax earmarks and tariff reductions as well as loopholes in the international corporate tax system. In so doing, it would set the right priorities for fostering student achievement and economic growth.
The proposed budget places the burden for addressing the nation’s financial crisis squarely on the shoulders of the middle class and the poor. It runs completely counter to our values as a nation, by failing to take care of those most in need while sparing those at higher income levels. It asks our children, working families, elderly, and disabled populations to make greater sacrifices than others. We urge the committee to reject this ill-conceived proposal.
Director of Government Relations
Manager of Federal Advocacy