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Letter to Congress on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013

December 11, 2013

Dear Member of Congress: 

On behalf of the 3 million members of the National Education Association (NEA) and the students they serve, we offer our views on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, announced by the Budget Conference Committee. While not perfect, this bill is a good first step toward fully replacing the reckless sequester cuts to education and other vital non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs and is an important divergence from the austerity approach Congress has taken.  

The measure will replace $63 billion in sequester cuts for FY14 and FY15, and is split equally between NDD and Defense. In the first year alone, this would restore roughly 87 percent of FY13 cuts to NDD programs, an important recognition that the deep cuts already made to programs like education have been shortsighted and harmful to students nationwide. Congress should build on this and work to fully replace the sequester in future years, including by closing corporate tax loopholes.   

Crucially, this agreement covers two fiscal years, providing the opportunity for Congress to avoid more political brinksmanship. Washington's budget battles of the past few years have resulted in deep, damaging cuts that have fallen hard on America's children and most vulnerable families.  These cuts, which totaled roughly $3 billion in FY13 alone, have taken federal education funding back to pre-2004 levels while our nation's schools are serving nearly 6 million more students since that time.   

A disproportionate share of these harmful sequester cuts have impacted higher-poverty communities and students most in need - 57,000 children lost seats in Head Start classes, schools served by Impact Aid have seen drastic reductions in funding, and additional harmful impacts continue to be felt in classrooms nationwide. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 begins to chart a different path, and, after its passage, we strongly urge the Appropriations Committees to craft a Labor-HHS-Education funding bill that prioritizes core formula grant programs like Title I and IDEA, which seek to level the playing field for students who are most in need, and should see increases to help mitigate the damage done by recent cuts. 

We applaud the inclusion of a reserve fund for Early Childhood Education in the bipartisan plan, as it recognizes what educators have long known — that the first years of a child’s life are a vital window of opportunity. Research shows that children who attend high-quality pre-kindergarten programs are less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, need special education, and will have greater opportunity to succeed in life.   

While overall the measure is a step in the right direction, we are dismayed that federal employees, such as educators at Department of Defense schools who serve the children of our men and women in the military, are again being forced to contribute more to deficit reduction. In recent years they have already been forced to sacrifice in the form of furloughs, pay freezes and greater contributions to their retirement security. This agreement demands even more for those hired into public service after this year.  It is wrong to continue demanding even more from these hardworking, middle-class Americans who play critical roles in keeping our nation safe and secure, while not closing even a single costly corporate tax loophole.  

We are likewise disappointed that this proposal fails to extend benefits for workers unemployed longer than 26 weeks. The current program expires on Dec. 28, when payments will be cut off for an estimated 1.3 million individuals. For far too many of those workers and their families, those benefits are their only life-line. Protecting unemployment insurance is critical to ensuring family stability and, consequently, the well-being of thousands of children in our public schools. We urge congress to step forward with a solution for America’s unemployed. 

Overall, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 lays a more solid foundation for moving forward. Congress is finally hearing what educators, parents and students have been saying: no more cuts to education. It is time to focus on making smart investments in education and job creation which will grow our economy.  We look forward to working with you in that endeavor. 

Sincerely, 

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations