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Statement of the National Education Association to the Super Committee

October 26, 2011


Submitted to Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
Hearing on Overview: Discretionary Outlays, Security and Non-Security

On behalf of the 3.2 million dedicated members of the National Education Association (NEA), who work tirelessly every day in support of our nation’s children, we offer the following comments with regard to the work of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Super Committee”).

NEA believes that the Super Committee must take a balanced approach that aims, above all, to put Americans back to work.  This approach must protect the interests of Main Street and our most vulnerable populations, and make sure that those most able to do so pay their fair share.  Any deal must include significant provisions to increase revenue and must not rely solely on additional cuts. 

We hope the Committee will be able to come to a balanced agreement in order to avoid the sequestration trigger.  The Congressional Budget Office has estimated a 7.8 percent across-the-board cut in FY13 if the trigger is pulled.  This would result in a cut of $3.54 billion to education, including:

  • A cut of $1.1 billion to Title I that would impact almost 1.5 million students
  • A cut of $896 million to IDEA that would affect more than half a million students, and
  • A cut of $590 million to Head Start that would harm more than 75,000 young children.

These cuts would also cause a loss of more than 70,000 jobs at a time when Congress needs to be focused on creating jobs.  Attached please find a chart outlining the impact on education of the Budget Control Act's Across-the-Board Reductions (sequestration). 

While a deal is essential to avoid these cuts, we would not support a deal that failed to include significant revenue while further slashing funding for education and programs that serve our most vulnerable.  All must be asked to pay their fair share. 

Focus on Creating Jobs

We strongly supported the President’s plan to keep educators working and students learning and were very disappointed when Congress failed to pass both the comprehensive package as well as smaller pieces designed to create immediate jobs.

The situation in schools across the nation is unacceptable, as layoffs and budget cuts create ballooning class sizes and elimination of programs that help students succeed.  When educators lose their jobs, students lose too.  When school began this fall, fewer dedicated professionals were there to greet and care for them — fewer teachers, teachers’ aides, librarians, bus drivers, food service workers, counselors, and nurses. 

More than 330,000 education jobs have been lost since September 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  An additional 227,000 education jobs will be lost in the 2011-12 school year, according to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).  And, according to Dr. Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, the loss of these education jobs will trigger the loss of nearly 70,000 additional jobs in other sectors, for a total of nearly 300,000 more jobs lost.

Consider the following stories, only a small sampling of stories NEA receives every day from educators across the country:

Washington State -- I work at a Title 1 school where close to 100% of our students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.  Art and music have been cut from our school, technology assistance has been cut from our district in a major way, and now our counselor is only with us 2 days a week.  With all that they are dealing with at home, most of our students could use a daily session with a counselor/psychologist session.  But now that support is not there, making it incredibly difficult for them to learn and stay focused.

California -- Due to budget cuts, we lost the teacher who operated the reading program for our poorest non-special education readers.  Those students are now in regular English classes, where they will be hard-pressed to do the required work.  Our custodial and clerical staffs have been decimated.  Most classes now have over 40 students in them.

Ohio -- My building lost a 4th grade math/science specialist.  A huge jump is required in the level of math to be successful in the intermediate grades compared to the primary grades.  The role of the math/science specialist was to reduce class size so that the homeroom teacher and the math specialists could teach students more effectively….Jobs are an education issue, not an economic issue.  If public schools don’t have the necessary resources, our children won’t develop the skills they need to gain employment that can give them a comfortable existence in life.

Investing in public education creates American jobs.  It ensures that our children won’t fall through the cracks, and instead will have the resources they need to succeed in the worldwide economy.  When we save jobs in our nation’s public schools, students are the winners: they receive more individual attention, more help from counselors, more after school help and more opportunities to succeed. 

In addition, creating education jobs will help jump start economic recovery.  Investing in public education has a greater net positive impact on economic growth than any other type of investment, including tax cuts.  When we invest in public education, lower and middle incomes grow even more than upper incomes, positively impacting businesses’ bottom line because lower-income people spend their new income on consumer goods and services. 

Oppose Additional Discretionary Funding Cuts

Educators understand that Congress must work to ensure America’s long-term economic prosperity and that we must address the nation’s serious fiscal challenges.  However, cutting education funding and slashing programs that serve children, seniors, and working families is not the answer.  NEA members see first-hand every day the struggles of many of their students and their families.  We cannot afford to abandon the poor and the middle class while continuing to cater to the wealthiest in our nation. 

Dramatic spending cuts in programs that invest in America’s human capital will jeopardize the health, economic security, and education of millions of Americans.  We cannot sacrifice America’s future prosperity by cutting education, health, and other programs that invest in students and their families.  Many unemployed Americans are returning to education to pursue training in new careers – they need access to lifelong learning in the form of financial aid.  School districts are slashing after-school programs, reducing learning time, and overcrowding classes – cutting federal funding will exacerbate these conditions and jeopardize the next generation’s future.

Discretionary funding for the next decade already took a significant hit in round one of deficit reduction.  We strongly oppose additional cuts that will unavoidably harm critical investments in education.  America’s students have already “given” toward deficit reduction; their future should not be compromised more:

Michigan -- Shortage of paper for daily use, reduction in supplies, loss of all librarians, extreme reduction of secondary counselors…are only some of the cuts experienced.  Our district has high numbers of Title I students and the hardship is placed on them.  These cuts are shameful and need to stop.

Texas -- My district is in a predominantly Hispanic, low income, rural area.  The number of electives available for our students has been significantly reduced and the amount budgeted for substitute teachers has been cut in half.  The students in the classroom of the absent teacher are divided among the remaining teachers.  The number of support staff (including custodial staff and aides) has been reduced, as well as the number of work days for new hires in the custodial crew.

South Carolina -- I am an art teacher for a middle school and a high school.  Last year, our pay was cut and I watched my friends and colleagues be fired in droves.  Every day I thought I would be next.  Meanwhile, I spent more than $2,500 out of my own pocket to buy art supplies for my students because my budget was only $300 for the entire year.  This year, I heard my governor say that teachers make too much.  The superintendent of schools told the legislature to cut all funding for arts programs.  No job for me, no art for the kids.  Who wins, here?

Maryland -- We have lost 55 teaching positions for the 2012 school year because of budget cuts.  This has resulted in larger class sizes, increased workloads for educators, and less time for individual instruction for students.  Our students’ success and future is at stake.  We need to get back the positions we have lost to improve our students’ chances of success.

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. 

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)

We cannot afford to make further cuts to education and other programs serving these vulnerable children.

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. 

In a typical state, investing just two percent more in public education generates 3,900 new jobs and $92 million in new personal income.  An equal tax cut generates less than half those gains — 1,500 new jobs and $41 million in new personal income.  (Source: Richard Sims, NEA Research, previously Director, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, 2011).

Our nation’s top competitors in the global economy are holding harmless or increasing education investments.  Despite the current recession and fiscal crisis, 25 developed nations maintained or increased education funding, according to a recent OECD report.  Three nations—Denmark, Hungary and Iceland—attributed cuts in K-12 education to the recession, as did one Canadian province; the other five Canadian provinces increased funding (see “Educationtoday Crisis Survey 2010, The Impact of the Economic Recession and Fiscal Crisis on Education in OECD Countries,” http://bit.ly/j2CwJR).  Further cuts in this nation will serve only to put us at further disadvantage competitively. 

Invest in School Modernization

We strongly support the President’s plan to invest $30 billion in school infrastructure.  Our children deserve manageable class-sizes and modernized and energy-efficient school buildings.  On average, our public schools are more than 40 years old and need an estimated $500 billion in repairs and upgrades:

Montana -- I am a preschool special education teacher and coordinator for my district.  We have three buildings in our community, with the newest building, the high school, built in the late 1960s.  Our other two buildings are from the late 1940s and early 1950s.  The preschool is in a modular unit near the main building, and has no bathroom or sink.  We have drinking water delivered, but we have to walk outside to the main building to use the restrooms.  The walls have cracks, the doors leak, and the windows need to be replaced for more efficient energy use—we have a steam heating system that is very hard to regulate.

Arizona -- I am a high school teacher.  Like most of my colleagues, I am teaching 40 students in classrooms not designed for that many students.  Our school is bursting at the seams.  If one more freshman enrolls for this year, they will have to take English online because there is no more classroom space.

Massachusetts -- We teach our students to stay healthy by washing their hands after using the restroom.  That is a difficult thing to do in a sink where the water just dribbles out.  We teach our students to stay focused and listen.  That is a difficult thing to do in a room with 26 ancient desks and chairs that squeak and have legs that frequently collapse.  We teach our students that technology is changing and improving every day.  That is hard for them to grasp while using refurbished desktops from eight years ago, in a building with a connection “speed” that frustrates even the most patient learner.  We teach our students about our founding fathers and the plans they made for future Americans and America.  It is hard to believe that today’s leaders are satisfied with the conditions our young people are now learning in.

Pennsylvania -- Our school is filled with harmful mold, dust, asbestos, vermin, and rodents.  I have had to see an allergist, and have been on shots for several years.  My students are low income, and most do not have the same option of seeing a specialist.  How can our students be expected to do their best to better their situation (not to mention, pass tests) if their schools make them sick?

It is shameful to hear such stories in this country.  We are sending our children a message that they do not matter and are not a priority for the nation. 

School modernization will ensure students the safe, modern learning environments they need to succeed.  And, it will help jump start the economy.  Construction and building repair generally create 9,000-10,000 jobs per billion dollars spent.  Eliminating just half the backlog in needed repairs and improvements would, over a period of years, create more than two million much-needed jobs.

Protect Those Most in Need and Those Who Rely on Core Safety Net Programs Such As Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

We oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare benefits.  These essential programs did not contribute to the nation’s deficit and should not be cut to address it.

Cuts to Medicaid would be especially harmful as one-third of all children in the U.S. are served by Medicaid.  In fact, of the 68 million people covered by Medicaid in 2010, half were 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.  Slashing Medicaid funding would also place a drastic strain on struggling state budgets and further squeeze education funding.

Social Security cuts should also be off the table.  Teachers and education support professionals, like the majority of middle class Americans, rely on Social Security for their future.  Educators are particularly vulnerable in their retirement security, both because of their comparatively low salaries and increasing attacks on their pension plans. 

Social Security is more than a retirement plan.  It is our nation’s most successful social insurance program.  Nationally, 20 percent of adults receive Social Security benefits, including 22 percent of women and 18 percent of men.  About 24 million women, 18 million men, and 3 million children rely on Social Security benefits.  Cuts to Social Security would fall disproportionately on low-income individuals, particularly minorities, who depend on Social Security and Medicare.  For example, according to the Social Security Administration, among Hispanics receiving Social Security in 2008, 38 percent of elderly married couples and 62 percent of unmarried elderly persons relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.

Women comprise 58 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries at age 65, and 71 percent of all recipients by age 85.  Women traditionally have lower lifetime earnings than their male counterparts, and women in the education profession face comparatively lower salaries than many other professionals.  According to the National Women’s Law Center, without Social Security, more than half of women over 65 would be poor.  Social Security helps level the playing field for women, who on average earn less than men and have fewer years in the workforce as a result of time spent out of the workforce for childcare and care of the sick and elderly.

Ensure a Balanced Approach to Deficit Reduction That Includes Revenues

We strongly believe that those most able to do so must pay their fair share toward deficit reduction.  Tax cuts for the wealthy enacted under the last administration and renewed in 2010 are the single largest contributing factor to the deficit.  These tax cuts will cost $1 trillion over the next ten years.  These funds could be much better spent to help strengthen our nation.

Significant revenue should be generated by scaling back tax breaks for the wealthiest and tax subsidies for corporations.  It should not come from taxing health care benefits, which would disproportionately hurt the middle class, especially women.  The wealthiest one percent of Americans receives a quarter of all the income.  Americans find this imbalance completely unacceptable and want their elected officials to work together on a bipartisan basis to help Main Street hang on.  If revenue increases are not included, deficit reductions will have to come from spending cuts alone, decimating education and other priorities, restricting the federal government’s ability to respond to economic downturns, limiting economic opportunity, and increasing the likelihood that the fragile recovery will falter. 

Conclusion

We understand the seriousness of the task before the Super Committee and hope you can come together in support of a plan that will set our nation on the right course for a secure future.  We urge you to fight for a balanced approach that protects the interests of Main Street America, puts our nation back to work, and ensures a strong, competitive nation for the 21st Century.

We thank you for your consideration of our comments on these critical issues.