With sequestration waiting to go into effect tomorrow, it is interesting to see how the many in politics and in the media are trying to play down the potentially devastating effects that the mandatory budget cuts could have on education. There are many who are defending taking a hard line on the budget by pointing out that many of the budget cuts to education will not go into full effect until September since education is largely forward-funded by school year and as such the funding for this year has already been doled out. Others would contend that the cuts are not a big deal and show studies that suggest that early childhood education is not as important as some would argue. Others claim that sequestration is nothing but a political ploy.
At the beginning of February, the Equity and Excellence Commission, which was tasked with reporting back to the U.S. Department of Education on education opportunities as well as financing initiative to close the performance gap between students based on things such as race and income levels, released its findings in its report “For each and every child: A strategy for education equity and excellence.” This report surfaced with little fanfare and it seems that many simply do not understand or do not care about the findings of the report as sequestration approaches.
One area of emphasis in the report is students with disabilities. The study notes that the majority of these students, which comprise about 13% of all primary and secondary education students, have specific learning disabilities although students with autism spectrum disorder is the fastest growing group of the past decade. The report notes that the performance of the programs that have risen for these students have not performed well even with emphasis put on them by federal initiative such as No Child Left Behind. These students experience much high dropout levels and lower proficiency scores due largely to problems with them gaining full access to the educational experience. The report’s recommendation is continued focus on providing appropriate learning for these students with a special emphasis on the quality of programs and educators. It also specifically states that continued financial commitment is needed in order for these students to reach maximum proficiency. With sequestration, one of the largest cuts to education coming to Minnesota is in funding for students with disabilities. Within the space of a month, the government has reached a report on the importance of these programs and funding for these programs yet sequestration will cut over $9 million from this funding and could lead to a reduction of around 110 special education positions in schools statewide. That sounds like a big deal especially with the government report of the importance of these programs and funding for special education programs.
Education funding is one of the five key areas of the report and the section on funding starts by noting that the inequities of the property tax-based funding for schools was first brought to light in a government report in 1972. The report goes on to note that the state and local initiatives that have been enacted since then have not been effective and that the federal government needs to take a more active role. As a part of this, the report recommends that the federal government increase funding to low income with an emphasis on those areas in which there is an achievement gap. In addition, it calls for the federal government to provide grants to school districts so that they can develop better methodologies for improving programs as well as to improve technology. This, along with more enforcement and assistance in developing better ways to distribute funds, calls for the government to increase funding for education. In fact, it is presented not as a suggestion but as a mandate to fix the education system and assist in closing the achievement gap between the U.S. and other countries. Sequestration, however, would lead to cuts to education in complete opposition to what the report recommends.
Another area that the report focuses on is the need for quality early childhood education. It notes that the best education systems in the world feature universal access to early childhood education and that this is an integral part of improving the educational system. It notes that Pre-K education makes a huge difference in preparing students for Kindergarten and a launching board for future academic success. The report then calls for the government to ensure that there is universal access to Pre-K programs for all children including low income children and that this can be accomplished through programs such as Head Start. With sequestration, there would be significant cutbacks to the Head Start program that would cause 700 children to be left out of the program next school year due to the cuts. This not only is a failure to provide universal access but a step in the wrong direction.
Sequestration is very real and will have long-lasting, negative impacts on the education system in this country. It seems odd that there are many within the government that are saying there will be little to no negative impact of the cuts when a government report that is less than a month old provides a completely opposite viewpoint. The problem is that there were no politics in the report. It was a thorough and unbiased report that reflected truthfully on the American education system. Unfortunately, when it comes to funding in the real world, politics is often more important than reality. That is what sequestration is. It is politics getting in the way of the real world and putting blinders over the eyes of our country’s leaders. Parents can only hope that Congress reads this report and uses it to make an informed decision before it is too late.