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Letter to Senate on Budget Proposals

May 15, 2012

Dear Senator: 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we strongly urge you to VOTE NO on a series of budget proposals likely to be on the Senate floor this week, including the House-passed Ryan budget and plans by Senators Toomey, Paul, and Lee.  Each of these bills makes the wrong choices for our nation – opting to place the burden for the nation’s financial crisis squarely on the shoulders of the middle class and the poor, while failing to ask anything of those most able to contribute toward economic recovery.  Votes associated with these issues may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 112th Congress.  

Our nation is at a crossroads, having to choose between two starkly different visions for our future.  We can ensure everyone a fair shot, make the investments necessary for economic growth, and stand up for the middle class and our most vulnerable populations.  Or, we can continue to allow those who can most afford to pay their fair share to avoid doing so.  Shamefully, all of the proposals under consideration choose this latter path – letting student loan interest rates rise, slashing education and other critical funding, and ending Medicare as we know it in order to give tax breaks to millionaires.  

The Ryan budget subjects education and other domestic priorities to additional dramatic cuts beyond those agreed to in last year’s Budget Control Act.  At the same time, it makes no attempt to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction.  The plan not only excludes any revenue raisers, it actually decreases revenue by some $4 trillion while cutting spending by $5.3 trillion over the next 10 years.  In so doing, the Ryan budget makes a mockery of shared responsibility.  

The Ryan plan also dismantles health care and anti-hunger programs for the poor, disabled, and elderly – slashing Medicaid by one-third over a decade and block granting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The impact on students in our schools would be devastating.  One third of our nation’s children rely on Medicaid for their health care.  Children who lack access to health care services are less likely to come to school healthy and ready to learn and to succeed academically. Similarly, most SNAP recipients are children or seniors. The link between good nutrition and learning is evident in schools across the nation every day.  Hungry children are often irritable, feel ill, and lack concentration.  In contrast, students who come to class well-nourished have fewer behavioral and attendance problems, and have higher test scores. (The Link between Nutrition and Cognitive Development in Children, Tufts Univ., Medford, MA. Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy). 

The Toomey budget plan goes even further than the Ryan budget in slashing funding for non-defense discretionary programs -- proposing to cut this funding by $1.2 trillion over ten years below the levels agreed to in last year’s Budget Control Act.   The resulting cuts to education will hurt the neediest students, causing class sizes to rise even further, forcing elimination of more programs aimed at providing a well-rounded education, and putting more public servants in unemployment lines.  Education programs have already suffered significant harmful cuts to both K-12 and higher education. The final FY 11 Continuing Resolution cut education programs (exclusive of changes to Pell grants) by an aggregate $1.25 billion with more than three dozen education programs eliminated and another four dozen cut. The FY 12 omnibus appropriations bill cut Education Department funding by another $233 million.  Since FY 10, funding for over 50 education programs has been terminated, cutting over $1.2 billion.  

Senator Toomey also proposes to cut Medicaid by about $990 billion over the next ten years — $180 billion more than under the Ryan budget — reducing federal funding for state Medicaid programs 40 percent below current-law levels by 2022.   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.  

The Rand budget proposal would eliminate the Department of Education and all federal education funding other than Pell Grants.   The federal government has a critical role to play in ensuring equal opportunity and access to a quality education.  Our nation’s history is one in which the rule of law affirmatively prevented many children from receiving a quality education, banishing them to separate and unequal schools and a lifetime of lost opportunities.  Even after the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, massive educational disparities remained, with many states failing to ensure adequate resources and supports.  Much of the modern federal role in education was born out of these disparities and intended to ensure that all students had access to the education necessary to succeed.  There is still much work to be done to ensure all students the world-class public education they deserve, regardless of where they live.  Eliminating the federal role in education would take us backward, rolling back the progress that has been made and leaving far too many children’s futures dependent on the zip code in which they live.   

Finally, the Lee budget plan takes a page from the playbooks of those who want to eliminate the entire federal social safety net.  It would decimate Social Security and Medicare, completely repeal the Affordable Care Act, and balance the budget by 2017 by cutting $7 trillion in spending – cuts that would of course harm those already struggling while asking nothing of those most able to contribute to economic recovery.   

These budget proposals seem to reflect a race to the bottom – a shameful competition to see who can take our nation furthest down the most dangerous, ill-advised path.  They ignore the bipartisan budget deal reached last summer.  But, more importantly, they ignore the needs of millions of struggling middle class families and those who have fallen out of the middle class.  They leave the majority of Americans to fend for themselves, while pandering to a small percentage of wealthy individuals.  These proposals run 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.  They ask our children, working families, seniors, and disabled populations to make greater sacrifices than others.  We urge you to reject all of these ill-conceived proposals.   

Sincerely, 

Kim Anderson
Director, Center for Advocacy 

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations