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Letter to the Senate Committee on Appropriations on the Impact of Sequestration

February 12, 2013

Dear Senator:  

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association we wish to offer the following views in connection with the February 14 hearing, “The Impacts of Sequestration.” 

To date, Congress has already enacted more than $1.5 trillion in cuts to discretionary programs, like education, placing the overwhelming burden of deficit reduction on the backs of the middle class, students, and those struggling to make ends meet. These built-in cuts bring Non-Defense Discretionary spending to the lowest level as a share of the economy (GDP) on record. And the recession has led to the loss of more than 363,000 local education jobs starting in July 2008, further hindering the overall economic recovery and making it more difficult to ensure the individual attention so many students need. 

We urge Congress to replace the looming across-the-board cuts with a balanced approach that requires America’s wealthiest citizens and largest corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Nationwide, the across-the-board cuts would negatively impact the education of 7.4 million students and could cost nearly 50,000 educators their jobs, further weakening the overall economy at a time Congress should be focused on helping to create jobs. Education funding would be rolled back to pre-2004 levels even though our schools are now serving nearly 6 million more students.  

These cuts would mean more students crammed into already overcrowded classrooms, shorter school weeks, 4-year-olds cheated out of early childhood education, and dreams dashed for aspiring college students. The impact would be harshest on the students who are in most need of help and can least afford to take more hits, including students in high-poverty communities and students with disabilities.  

Many of our members have shared what they are experiencing and seeing with their own students and classrooms as a result of the continued budget cuts. A few examples:

From an NEA member in Maryland: Each year class sizes at our school have risen. We now have many Spanish, French and Italian classes with 35 kids in them. I have been teaching for 40 years and that past three or four have been the most difficult as the student-teacher ratio has increased. If anything, we need to spend more to decrease class size which would allow us to give the nurturing attention our children need. When will we wake up to this fact as a nation?

From an NEA member in Iowa: We run an alternative program that helps “at risk” students, to get them back on track to graduate. This has made dramatic improvements in our district’s graduation rates. A lot of my students are finally buying into the need for a high school diploma. Please continue to invest in our children.

From an NEA member in Ohio: Our district has failed to pass a levy in over 13 years. We have made every possible cut in services. Our second grade classes have 29 children in each — this is second grade when students are still learning to read and need individualized attention in all academic subjects! One teacher with 29 students cannot possibly meet their needs and provide the help they need to learn the skills that will serve them the rest of their lives! Further federal and state cuts will make their futures even more dismal and give teachers who genuinely care about their students’ well-being an impossible task.

Despite the havoc already wrought by ill-advised budget cuts, some are calling for even deeper cuts to the programs ordinary Americans depend on: education, Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare. Instead, as a matter of basic fairness, Congress should ensure that the wealthiest among us and corporations pay their fair share. If you do well in America, you ought to do right by America. Many large companies pay zero federal income taxes. And our inequitable tax code allows wealthy households to disproportionately benefit from deductions and other tax benefits — the top one percent of taxpayers receives nearly 25 percent of the benefit from these provisions. 

For your information, we are including national and state tables showing the potential number of students affected, jobs that could be lost, and the impact on several key programs if the across-the-board cuts occur. Also attached is “Education and the Economy: Quick Facts,” underscoring the link between investing in the education of our citizens and a stronger economy.  

State table:

www.nea.org/assets/docs/CBPP_Sequester_Impact_States.pdf

National table: 

www.nea.org/assets/docs/Impact_of_Sequestration_on_Federal_Education_Programs_02-05-13.pdf.  

We strongly urge Congress to invest in our children, our nation’s future, and prevent further devastating cuts to critical investments like education, by enacting a balanced approach that requires those who can afford it — wealthy citizens and large corporations — to pay a fair share.  

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations