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NEA President Dennis Van Roekel: students will pay the price for political inaction

Educators sound the alarm on behalf of students about the looming budget cuts

WASHINGTON - February 27, 2013 -

Automatic budget cuts to the education programs and services on which 50 million students rely will go into effect on Friday, March 1. Without congressional action, a wall of indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts will come crashing down on students and schools. The cuts will affect millions of students in special education, Head Start and early childhood learning, and trigger a loss of tens of thousands of educator jobs.

“Students will pay the price for political inaction,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are choosing politics over students and middle class families by allowing the budget cuts to move forward. The impact of additional cuts will 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.”

Fifth-grade teacher Megan Allen, who teaches at a Title I school in Tampa, offered moving testimony on impending budget cuts before a House committee last week. Her students have made great gains in their performance, thanks largely to supports made possible by Title I funding. But what will happen when her state loses $120 million in education funding for Title I, IDEA, Head Start, and other vital programs because of the sequester cuts?

“My students live in poverty and have special needs that federal funding helps meet—for example, keeping class sizes manageable so teachers can provide individual attention and support,” said Allen. “For my students, a low student-to-teacher ratio is a dream lifter and life changer—essential if they are to realize their full potential.”

“From coast to coast, millions of students and educators are going to live with the consequences of inaction,” said Van Roekel. “Ms. Allen and her class are not alone. They join a growing chorus of voices from America’s schools expressing angst about the budget cuts.”

“In our district we’ve seriously considered going to a four-day workweek, and I’m not convinced that’s the best thing for my students,” said Vicki Zasadny, a special education teacher at Bonner Springs Elementary in Kansas, who has 35 years of experience. “But if they continue to cut the funding to our district, we have absolutely no choice but to make decisions that will affect students.”

Education support professional Roy Elia works in a special education classroom at an Oregon middle school. Because of budget cuts, his classes are growing and he and his colleagues have had to purchase school supplies with their own money. If budget cuts are made, it will make it that much harder to maintain vital special education services for students.

“Education is something we can all rally around. It does not know a partisan divide,” said Elia. “A lot of great things can be achieved if all of us can come together and take the steps necessary to make education the best it can be.”

Anita Jackson taught special needs students in Virginia for 30 years and has witnessed first hand how budget cuts affect the services schools are able to provide. “When it comes to special education, classroom teachers and aides are needed to provide individualized help—all of that is crucial,” noted Jackson.

She says cutting upwards of $644 million in federal funding for special education—the amount that will be lost if the across-the-board cuts go into effect—is unconscionable.

“When school funding is cut, it could be the decision that makes or breaks a child’s progress. It’s going to cost America in the long run to go cheap on public education,” concluded Jackson.

The timing of the budget cuts also is causing tremendous uncertainty and anxiety as school districts are making budgetary decisions for the upcoming school year. Without a firm commitment from Congress, educators by the tens of thousands will begin receiving pink slips in the coming months. Among the first affected by the budget cuts are educators who work on Department of Defense bases. Just last week, employees were told to expect furloughs to the tune of 22 days.

“It’s wrong to balance the budgets on the back of students without demanding corporations and the rich to pay their fair share,” said Van Roekel. “Congress has a duty to come up with a balanced approach to get our nation’s fiscal house in order without inflicting irreversible harm to our nation’s 50 million students and risking their future and our nation’s.”

For a detailed state-by-state analysis about the impact of the across-the-board automatic cuts on students and education, please click here.

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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT:  Miguel A. Gonzalez, 202-822-7823,