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Letter to the House and Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittees

May 20, 2011

Dear Representative:


On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to offer our views on the FY 2012 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill. 

We urge Congress to provide needed investments in core education programs that will help students succeed and set our nation on the path to economic prosperity.  Investing in education makes both good fiscal sense and good public policy.  Funding targeted to improving public schools will see the greatest return on taxpayer money and will strengthen the entire economy.  In fact, research shows an inextricable link between investment in education and economic strength.  In addition to widespread productivity increases, the higher earnings of educated workers generate higher tax revenues 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. 

Today, students’ success in school depends in large part on the zip code where they live and the educators to whom they are assigned.  Poverty is still a serious issue in this country, and unfortunately we still have schools that lack resources, committed and effective leadership, and enough great teachers and education support professionals to reach every student.  Schools in struggling communities too often have high dropout rates, and the cycle of poverty continues.

NEA believes that how we choose to spend our resources should reflect our priorities as an entire nation.  Children should be a top priority for our support and attention.  Middle class families in America are struggling.  As a consequence, children are feeling the burdens of their parents’ economic worry and uncertainty and, in many cases, their ability to stay afloat.  Here are the harsh facts about the impact of the economic crisis on our nation’s children:

  • More than one in five children is poor;
  • One in four children is at risk of hunger;
  • Nearly 8 million children lack health insurance; and
  • The number of children with at least one unemployed parent in 2010 (over 7 million) has nearly doubled from the start of the recession.  (First Focus, Cutting Spending for Children will Not Fix Our Budget Problems, http://firstfocus.net/sites/default/files/DCK_Overview.pdf, April 2011)

Given these ongoing challenges, we believe the FY 2012 Labor-HHS-Education bill is critical to ensuring the resources and supports necessary for all students to succeed.  We have attached for your information and use a chart outlining our specific asks for key education programs, including:

  • Increase funding for Title I by $1 billion.  Title I was created to correct inequitable financing at the state and local level that results in fewer resources being devoted to lower-income students.  While Title I has made a significant difference in addressing gaps in educational access and opportunity, many challenges remain as far too many students’ success in school continues to depend in large part on the zip code where they live.  According to First Focus, from 2008 to 2009, the number of America’s children that live in poverty grew by close to 2 million.  In 2009, child poverty reached a level of 20.7 percent — a rate of more than one in five and totaling more than 15.5 million children.  This makes increased funding of Title I even more important, to ensure that all children have the supports they need to succeed.  Even with our requested increase, funding would remain only at 62 percent of the level authorized in 2007—the last year an authorization of appropriations was specified in law.
  • Provide an increase of $1.3 billion for IDEA special education, raising the federal share of the cost of educating students with disabilities from 16.4 percent to 18 percent.  For too long, Congress has failed to live up to its commitment to fund 40 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure of every child in special education.  Outside of the historic infusion of funds included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government has never come close to meeting its commitment, not even reaching 20 percent in three decades.  This continued underfunding — in combination with current state fiscal crises — forces school districts to either raise taxes or dip into general education budgets to make up for the shortfall, thereby cutting other critical services.  The increase requested will help take pressure off of state and local budgets already stretched thin and free up funding for other priorities. 
  • Maintain the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,500.  We have been very concerned about proposals — including in the House-passed budget for FY 2012 — that would cut Pell Grant funding.  Maintaining Pell Grant awards is critical to ensuring access to higher education.  Cutting Pell Grants is not the answer to balancing the budget.  It simply restricts 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 secure our nation's future for the next generation.

Thank you for your consideration of our views on these important issues.  We look forward to working with you to ensure the investments necessary to allow every student to succeed. 

Sincerely,

Kim Anderson         
Director of Government Relations

Mary Kusler
Manager of Federal Advocacy