Call Me Wildly Optimistic, But I Think Education is Going to Survive the Fiscal Cliff
Now that the 2012 election has ended, the news beast has decided we'll get all crazed over the upcoming "fiscal cliff." There must be NEWSMAGEDDON!!!!!! at all times, so the debt ceiling gridlock that never got dealt with in 2011 is now here in the shape of across-the-board federal budget cuts to defense and domestic spending. If no one lifts a finger, $1.2 trillion in cuts will be implemented in all parts of the federal budget in the name of deficit reduction by January, 2013.
And partisans have their perspectives on what should be cut (military hardware, "entitlements"). Among the cuts scheduled to take place are $5.5 billion targeted at federal education dollars that fund tutors at Title I low-income schools, Head Start, special ed aides, and teachers who know how to teach English Language Learners.
Ordinarily I'd be pessimistic. But we just got through an election where we affirmed our values of equal opportunity, fairness, and hard work -- and, my home state of California just voted to start funding K-12 education again. This is no small feat in one of three states that require (insanely) a two-thirds "supermajority" of legislators in order to pass a revenue measure, or 50%+ of voters to approve a revenue-raising ballot measure. The people of California voted, and we said, YES, let's impose a tiny sales tax on everybody and an increase on personal income taxes on the top 5% of earners. Amazing, isn't it? We could do the same on the national level.
I think it finally occurred to everyone that we can't cut our way to excellence. California's once golden reputation among states with top-notch public education systems kindergarten through college has fallen somewhat. In the past five years, we've experienced $20 billion in cuts to K-12 education, and as a result, we're 46th, 47th, and 50th (!!) in some measures of quality education. Totally unacceptable. Which is why we're turning it around and getting on the right path.
So now, looking at the federal picture, I really believe that we're not going to accept cuts to between 9-30 million children across the country. These are some of our most vulnerable kids. In doing research on this subject, I talked to Mike Hoffman, an instructional paraprofessional (teacher's aide) who works with special ed kids in Delaware. He told me that he works with kids who have mild to severe disabilities, where he helps teach hygiene, personal interaction, and life skills to his students, and while "college and career readiness" is an admirable goal, for his students he'll be over the moon to help kids with big challenges function on their own as adults with friends and who can be productive, fully employed citizens. He works with six students and has two other colleagues, and ideally he said, it'd be a one-on-one teaching situation.
Now it hurts to think that someone would label a child like that (any child) a "moocher" or "taker." This past election, we heard a lot of mean talk. And we rightly recoiled from it. There's a 22% child poverty rate in this country, and we're going to take away Head Start, which does a phenomenal job getting nursery and preschool kids from low incomes on the best possible path to life? This program yields $7-9 in a productive, well-socialized, wage-earning adult when we invest $1 in Head Start. Or we're going to take away tutors for kids at Title I (high poverty schools)? A great education is that child's best shot at succeeding.
This election I believe we decided we are not a mean people. Instead, more people than not turned out, went to the polls, and cast a vote for fairness. For generosity and playing by the rules. And for trying as hard as you can, and working as hard as you can. Isn't that what we try to teach our kids? So call me wildly optimistic, but I think we Americans are ready for a "showdown" with anyone who'll try to block or cut important investments in our kids. We aren't going to stand by and let any kid drown. We'll be there to raise our voices to demand lifelines and swimming lessons.
JOIN US: @K12NN's Twitter Party, Thursday, November 15, 2012, 10 – 11 am Pacific Time. Use the hashtag #kidsnotcuts. Lily Eskelsen (@NEAToday), Vice President of the National Education Association, will be taking your questions about education funding and how proposed cuts could hurt kids. Bloggers @mochamomma, @jpippert, @socalmom, and @leoniehaimson will also be talking about their blog posts on what we must do to stop federal cuts to education.