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Letter Opposing FY13 Labor-HHS Appropriations

July 17, 2012

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we urge your opposition to the FY2013 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill scheduled for mark-up in subcommittee tomorrow.  How we target resources should reflect the priorities of our nation.  Unfortunately, the proposal under consideration reflects the wrong priorities, choosing to slash funding and eliminate critical education, health and labor programs.  Actions in committee on this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 112th Congress. 

We are pleased that the bill provides increases for certain programs – including Impact Aid, Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant and a $500 million increase for IDEA special education.  We are also pleased that the education proposal places more emphasis on formula grants rather than through competitive grants that declare winners and losers and ultimately leave behind millions of students. 

Despite these positives, we have very serious concerns with the bill.  Our nation is at a crossroads, having to choose between two starkly different visions for our future.  We can ensure everyone gets 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, the proposal at hand follows the Ryan budget, which chose this latter path, and opted to place the burden for the nation’s financial crisis squarely on the shoulders of the middle class and the poor. 

Our specific areas of opposition include:

  • Cutting discretionary programs including education far beyond the 10-year reductions agreed to last summer.  The Chairman’s mark ignores the bipartisan Budget Control Act deal, choosing to cut education, health and labor programs more than $6 billion below that agreement.  Under the proposal, education funding would be cut by more than $1 billion below current levels.

    Under last year’s Budget Control Act, education and other non-defense discretionary spending already took a huge hit as the source for the bulk of deficit reduction – a devastating blow to children, working families, and our most vulnerable populations going forward.  Additional cuts will unavoidably harm critical education programs and the students they serve.  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.
  • Flat funding Title I.  Investing in Title I reflects the critical role of the federal government in addressing historical inequities.  Title I has a proven track record of success in closing achievement gaps.  Yet, the current funding level represents only 38% of the full authorization level. According to the most recent available data, child poverty has reached a level of 20.7 percent – a rate of more than one in five and totaling more than 15.5 million children.   More students are coming to school hungry and more students and their families are finding themselves homeless.  Many schools in distressed areas lack even the basic tools and resources to help children succeed. Level funding of this critical program is, in real terms, a cut, given the recession-driven spike in child poverty, and the increase of 1.2 million students eligible for Title I since 2010. Increasing Title I funding is essential for closing opportunity and achievement gaps and helping every child reach his or her full potential.
  • Eliminating School Improvement Grants (SIG) and the Investing in Innovation Fund (I3), as well as several other proven programs. School Improvement Grants and I3 funds provide critical resources for schools with the greatest challenges. More, not fewer resources are needed to ensure every struggling, eligible school gets the help it needs.  Presently, far less than half the schools eligible for SIG assistance are receiving it.  Eliminating this funding entirely will greatly undermine efforts to turnaround the schools that need the most help and it will take us backward in our fight to ensure great public schools for every student.

  • Repealing 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. 
  • Blocking implementation of “gainful employment” regulations.  These regulations advance the common-sense principle that federal financial aid should go to career education programs that consistently provide what they promise and don’t leave students buried in debt they cannot repay.  Investigations conducted by the Government Accountability Office have revealed questionable practices by some for-profit colleges.  Too many of these programs are preying on low-income students, minority students, and veterans seeking to further their education, who take on insurmountable debt to pursue degrees or certificates that don’t help them get jobs.
  • Extending a flawed “loophole” allowing teachers who are still in training and have not yet completed a teacher preparation program to be labeled “highly qualified.” This provision, which retains a policy tucked into a previous Continuing Resolution appropriations measure, allows continued disproportionate concentration of intern teachers in schools serving low-income students and students of color.  Far too often, schools with the greatest needs are filled with the most inexperienced and least skilled teachers.  As a result, talented teachers in high-needs schools work alongside colleagues who lack training and are unprepared for the challenges they encounter. We recognize that intern programs serve as an important pipeline for training new teachers and bringing enthusiastic individuals into the profession who may never have otherwise chosen to teach.  But we do not believe that an intern with just a few weeks of summer training is “highly qualified” and fully prepared to teach on his or her first day in the classroom.
  • Attacking the middle class and labor community, cutting funding for the National Labor Relations Board, and limiting the ability of the NLRB to protect workers.  The NLRB ensures workers’ rights to fight for better working conditions and to stand up for the salary and benefits they need to provide for their families.  These proposed attacks on their rights, which depart from a long-preserved American tradition of democracy in the workplace, come at a time when millions of American workers are struggling to meet their families’ basic needs. Additionally, we oppose the prohibition on using Project Labor Agreements for federal projects.

NEA believes the proposed appropriations bill reflects the wrong priorities for our nation, undermining critical investments in education, health and labor programs that help strengthen the economy and ensure a strong, competitive nation in the future.  We urge your opposition to this proposal, which effectively implements the disastrous Ryan budget plan. 

Sincerely,

Kim Anderson
Director, Center for Advocacy

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations