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NEA News

3 Things Educators Should Know about the Looming Default Crisis

If MAGA Republicans push America into default, our students will pay the price.
stressed teacher
Published: 05/25/2023

In another inexcusable show of disregard for public education and working families, some Republicans in Congress have set up a false choice: the first default in our country’s 246-year history or cruel, devastating cuts that target our most vulnerable students and families while asking nothing of corporations or the wealthiest among us.  

Either of these scenarios would result in massive cuts to education funding, taking supports away from the most vulnerable students in our public schools.  

“For decades students with disabilities have faced an uphill battle fighting for and protecting their educational rights,” says Gloria Martinez, a special education teacher and United Teachers Los Angeles’ vice president of elementary schools. “It is no secret that there has always been a staffing shortage in our schools for staff that serve students with disabilities. Any further cuts to IDEA fund would put our students’ education and their rights in jeopardy,"

“This is unacceptable and any cut would have severe consequences that might take years, if not decades to overcome,” Martinez adds. 

The crisis can be avoided if Congress acts swiftly to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default. 

Here are three things educators should know about the looming default crisis: 

1. We've Been Here Before

The 2011 budget crisis shook confidence in America’s political and financial stability, hiked borrowing costs, and ushered in a decade of austerity.  

Due to ensuing “budget controls”—cuts, actually—education funding is $13.6 billion less than it was a dozen years ago (after adjusting for inflation).  

If Republicans fail to come to an agreement with President Biden, default would have serious impacts on Americans. It could: 

  • Erase millions of jobs, including potentially 100,000 teachers and support personnel 

  • Trigger a recession 

  • Devastate retirement accounts 

  • Increase borrowing costs 

  • Damage our international reputation 

  • Millions who rely on Medicaid for their health care could be at risk of losing it 

2. We Can Raise the Debt Ceiling

In fact, many current members of Congress voted to raise or suspend the debt ceiling three times with no drama during the previous administration. This time should be no different. Here are the facts: 

  • Congress created the debt ceiling in 1917—to facilitate funding World War I—and routinely raised it with bipartisan support for over 90 years. 

  • The debt limit has been lifted 78 times since 1960 — 49 times under a Republican president and 29 times under a Democrat — according to the Treasury Department

  • Three of those times were during the Trump administration. In 2017, 2018, and 2019 Congress approved measures to lift the ceiling shortly before it was reached. 

3. The Limit, Save, Grow Act is the Wrong Answer to the Crisis

House Republicans’ alternative to default is a bill that would slash federal funding by $130 billion, leading to cuts of 22 percent or more in essential government programs. According to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona:  

  • Title I programs would lose $4 billion, a cut equivalent to removing over 60,000 educators from classrooms serving low-income students 

  • IDEA grants to states for students with disabilities would decline by $3.1 billion, a cut equivalent to eliminating over 48,000 special education teachers and aides  

  • Title II state grants used to recruit and retain educators would be cut by $9 million, on average  

  • Career and technical education state grants would be cut by $6 million, on average  

  • No support for 69 community schools  

Now is the time for educators to speak out on how the debt crisis could hurt students. 

“Please reach out to the people who represent you in Congress and ask them to oppose any cuts to these education programs,” asks Martinez. “It is critical that we speak up for the students and families who have too often been left out of these conversations.” 

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National Education Association

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.