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Letter to the Senate Budget Committee on Hearing: Impact of Federal Budget Decisions on Children

June 26, 2013

Dear Senator: 

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we offer our views on the hearing held today by the Senate Budget Committee: “Investing in our Future: The Impact of Federal Budget Decisions on Children.”  We thank Chairman Murray for her leadership in holding this hearing in order to emphasize the far-reaching impact that the federal budget in fact has on the lives of tens of millions of children, particularly those from low-income households.  

The federal budget should be looked at as a moral document that reflects the nation’s priorities. NEA believes that in these challenging economic times investing in education has never been more important. It makes both good fiscal sense and good public policy. The federal funding role, while limited compared to state and local funding, nevertheless is a vitally important lever in attempting to address historic inequities. Funding targeted to disadvantaged populations remains essential as part of an effort to ensure equitable access to a quality education so that students have what is needed in order to thrive. 

It is time the federal government takes more seriously its profoundly important responsibility to end inequities. The nation must ensure all children have access to sufficient resources and tools to create quality teaching and learning conditions, especially in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. Federal funding can and should promote equitable access to all the needs of a child – education, nutrition, healthcare and more. We know that education can be a great equalizer and helps to ensure a level playing field for all students.  

However, the continued slashing of federal funding for education, nutrition, housing, healthcare and more hampers the ability of educators in our schools to meet the needs of every child. For example, programs such as Title I, IDEA, and Pell Grants to name only a few remain underfunded and are not keeping pace with inflation or enrollment increases.  

Consider the story of Jolene Flores, an educator and NEA member from Washington: 

Students at the school where I work benefit from federal funds through a reading intervention program that provides them with 45 minutes of additional focused practice. If this is taken away, students reading below grade level will have little chance of ever catching up. Our class sizes are already too big for teachers to provide the level of individualized instruction needed. We struggle to service the needs of students with mental health issues and emotional behavioral disorders in the general education classroom. Additional support is required in order to provide our children with an adequate education. 

Jolene’s story is one of many we hear on a daily basis about the lack of support for public education.  In the name of deficit reduction, 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 (NDD) spending to the lowest level as a share of the economy (GDP) on record. Further cuts would only serve to harm children most in need. 

For example, additional cuts to NDD programs through sequestration 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.  

Rather than cutting ever deeper, Congress ought to be increasing the investment in critical areas, such as early education. Research is unequivocal that high quality early childhood education, like President Obama’s “Preschool for All” proposal represents one of the best investments the nation can make.  

In addition, federal funding is critical in providing resources that help educate the “whole child.” We applaud the Senate-passed budget for recognizing this by protecting funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid, which provide health care for one-third of all children. We note too the importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in ensuring that children receive healthy meals. Educators know that students who come to school hungry or sick are less able to concentrate and learn. 

The need to increase the federal investment in our nation’s children and their education has never been greater. It is not only the right course to take for children, but for the entire country and our economy. A growing economy requires a capable and innovative workforce able to drive the country forward.  The future of that workforce is dependent on investment in our children’s well-being and education today.  

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations