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Letter to the Senate in Support of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill

June 14, 2012

Dear Senator:
 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association's (NEA), we would like to express our support for the FY2013 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, scheduled for full committee mark-up this week.

In these difficult economic times with tight budgets and limited resources, we are very pleased that the bill approved earlier this week in subcommittee makes investment in education a top priority — providing an overall increase of $400 million. This increase follows the bi-partisan Budget Control Act allocation for discretionary funding, rejecting the draconian cuts in the House-passed Ryan budget. Investing in education makes both good fiscal sense and good public policy. Funding targeted to quality public schools will see the greatest return on taxpayer money, will help strengthen the middle class, and will help spur economic recovery.

We are particularly pleased that the bill provides for increases to critical, core formula programs such as Title I and IDEA that benefit millions of students in all states and districts.

  • The $100 million increase for Title I will help this proven program continue to close achievement gaps. 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.
  • Similarly, the proposed $100 million increase for IDEA is essential to ensure all students the services they need to succeed. 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. 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 proposed increase will help take pressure off of state and local budgets already stretched thin and free up state and local funding for other education priorities.
  • We also support the proposed increases in important programs like Head Start, Promise Neighborhoods, and Statewide Data Systems and the restoration Impact Aid funding slated for elimination. These are critical programs meeting specific, targeted needs for students across the country.
  • In addition, we strongly support the proposed increase in the maximum Pell Grant award. College is one of the best investments in America’s future. It is fundamental to our economic growth. The strength of our nation depends on the strength of our people. Increases in the Pell Grant award are essential to restore its purchasing power and ensure low-income students can access and complete post-secondary education.

We recognize that the subcommittee-passed bill provides an increase Race to the Top. We generally prefer that scarce resources be targeted to formula programs that go to all states and districts, rather than competitive programs that choose winners and losers. We believe that the bill’s call to direct a significant portion of these funds for early education grants represents a positive approach.

We are concerned the bill would cut funding for Math Science Partnerships and turn them into competitive grants, thereby leaving behind more students. A focus on quality math and science education, and high-quality professional development for math and science educators, is essential to the future strength of our nation. Simply put, if we are to position our nation at the forefront of an increasingly global society, we must equip our students today with the math and science skills they will need to lead the way tomorrow. We urge the committee to work to prevent this cut and preserve the program as formula grants.

NEA strongly supports continued funding for the Title II Teacher Quality State Grants program, one of the largest formula grant programs in the Department of Education budget. These funds reach all districts and states and allow districts to invest in professional development and class size reduction. With devastating cuts at all levels in recent years, class sizes have been on the rise. Parents and educators know, and research confirms, that smaller class sizes offer numerous benefits for students, who can received more individualized attention. Current law includes a 1.5 percent “set aside” within Title II for competitive grants, which ultimately leave behind many students and districts. We have concerns about providing a larger set-aside and would strongly oppose any amendment to increase the set-aside beyond that already in the proposed bill.

We would also oppose any amendment to defund the Affordable Care Act. NEA members see first-hand every day the importance of access to health care for children’s success in school. Students struggle to learn if they do not come to school healthy. Families with access to regular medical care are more likely to keep the entire family healthy and create a better learning environment within the home. Repealing the Affordable Care Act would be devastating to millions of children and their families. It would take away coverage from 32 million Americans who would be uninsured without the new law, including many students sitting in NEA members’ classrooms every day. According to the Congressional Budget Office, repeal would explode the national deficit, increasing it by $230 billion in the first decade.

We also oppose any amendment to weaken or undermine workers’ rights or the ability of the National Labor Relations Board to protect and defend America’s working families. Millions of Americans are out of work. Families are struggling to keep roofs over their heads and food on the table. Congress should not waste time undermining the basic organization speaking on behalf of the middle class. Our families, communities, and our nation simply cannot afford to continue on a path of perverse priorities and attacks on working families.

In addition, we would oppose any potential amendment to cut School Improvement Grants in order to increase funding for charter management organizations (CMOs). NEA supports charter schools that operate in ways that are transparent and with accountability to parents and taxpayers for quality and financial integrity, and which do not lead to increased segregation of students. Unfortunately, most states’ charter policies fall far short on one or more of these dimensions. Charter schools are not a panacea for solving all education challenges. In fact, there is considerable research that documents a mixed record of success among charter schools.

Finally, we want to express our opposition to any funding of the District of Columbia private school voucher program as part of the Financial Services appropriations bill. The program has not been found to be effective in improving educational outcomes for participating students. At a time when Congress is considering cutting trillions of dollars from the federal budget, it should not be spending millions of taxpayer dollars for a small number of students to attend private schools.

The FY13 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill reflects the belief that a country that makes education a priority is bound for economic success. This prioritization of education funding is critical to ensure that every student in America, regardless of where and in what circumstances he or she lives, has the tools and resources necessary to succeed. We urge your support for this critical legislation.

Sincerely,

 

 

Kim Anderson
Director, Center for Advocacy

Mary Kusler 
Director of Government Relations