Skip to main content
Cynthia Liu's picture

My home state is California, and we just successfully survived our own state version of the "fiscal cliff" when it comes to education. Here, they were called the "trigger cuts." If Proposition 30 -- essentially part of the June 30, 2012 budget passed by the legislature that needed the people's thumbs up at the ballot box -- hadn't gotten that thumb's up, K-14 education would've seen $6 billion in "trigger cuts" starting in January, 2013. In our state alone.

It was a nailbiter. I advised everyone to hedge their bets with a Yes on 30-38-39 vote (as did State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson on Election Day). Luckily, a combination of voters who are parents, union members, public school supporters, and alumni as well as current college students came together to affirm Proposition 30, and even voted Yes on 39 to close a corporate loophole and put an additional $500 million in the general fund that pays for public education. We realized as a state that we cannot cut our way to excellence.

No, cuts to K-12 ever since Proposition 13 passed in 1978 have slowly whittled the Golden State down to 46th, 47th, and yes, even 50th in certain important measures of public school quality. And we're among the 37 states that are still experiencing the lingering effects of the Great Recession. Our state budget, like the nation's, still suffers from long-term structural deficits. It isn't in the black yet. Significantly, however, we are on the road back.

So with this success freshly behind us, I'm slightly more hopeful about the fiscal showdown than some might be. January, 21013 could still hold some not-so-pleasant surprises if we don't get vocal. It's different from the California example in key ways but I think certain principles hold true regardless.

JOIN US: 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 policy. Let us know you'll be attending in the comments below!

UPDATED TO ADD: If you missed the Twitter Party, here are highlights!

Here's why the GOP in Congress, the folks who are responsible for gridlock since 2010, are at a disadvantage.

  1. November 6, 2012 was a shellacking, a definitive win of the popular vote and the electoral college and a decisive rejection of the Republican party's values.
  2. With rejection of Romney-Ryan, we also rejected their ideas about tax giveaways for the rich. (I have a video about the "moocher" 47% of America I'd like to show you in case you forgot.)
  3. If nothing happens, $1.2 Trillion in domestic and defense spending will automatically be cut from the federal budget starting January 2, 2013. That's both good and bad. See number 4.
  4. If nothing happens, about $5.5 billion dollars could be cut from education, and more from other important domestic programs. People generally want to fund education.
  5. If nothing happens, the Bush tax giveaways to the rich -- artificially low income tax rates -- will automatically rise to 39.6% from the current paltry rate of 36%. (Yes, that's what all the squealing like a stuck pig was about. A 3% increase on millionaires and billionaires.)
  6. If nothing happens, cuts to the Pentagon are scheduled to take place.
  7. We must remind the President to hold the line on cuts to Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and education. We cannot and will not cut investments in the future or benefits paid in for those who need them. Those soaring election night speeches, Mr. President? Voters who waited in long lines to vote to give the president a landslide popular vote win and the electoral college win are ready to make those ideals a reality with you.

Let's look a little more closely at #4 and #5.

Planned Cuts to Education: Kids Are "Too Small to Fail"

With the proposed cuts for federal education spending, here's what we need to be vigilant about. Federal education funding watchdog groups like the New American Foundation's Ed Money Blog have identified programs that could be cut that shouldn't. These would include Title I programs that help pay for tutors and supplemental help in schools in high-poverty areas, special ed programs covered under IDEA, funding that helps English Language Learners, or Head Start. Information at the link given just prior shows potential cuts by school district. The cuts would hurt kids both at big city schools and rural schools, where sometimes there's only one sixth grade teacher or one special ed teacher for a whole school.

In a HuffPo piece by education journalist Joy Resmovits, she writes:

Three federal programs critical to education -- Title I funds for poor students, state grants for special education and the Head Start public pre-school program -- would lose $2.7 billion over 10 years, predicted a Senate report based on the Congressional Budget Office projection that sequestration would slash spending by 7.8 percent. As many as 15,000 teachers and aides may lose their jobs, and 10,000 special education workers may be laid off.

Deborah Rigsby, the National School Boards Association's legislative director, put it in stark terms. "For every $1 million in federal aid that a school district receives, sequestration would cut $82,000, or more than one teacher," Rigsby said. "These cuts to our schools would be devastating and of course would impact student achievement."

The loss of funding to Head Start would be particularly egregious, as Julie Pippert notes. Estimates on efficient use of social spending are that for every $1 spent on a child in Head Start, $7 - $9 dollars are repaid when that child flourishes in school and becomes a productive, well-socialized adult.

In a short podcast interview with Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the National Education Association, her associate Mary Kusler, Director of Governmental Relations, and a special ed teacher, Mike Hoffman, we learn how kids who are from the most vulnerable groups are the ones most likely to lose out.

Listen to internet radio with MOMocrats on Blog Talk Radio

Education advocate and parent Leonie Haimson takes a slightly different approach, seeing the potential cuts to education as an opportunity to clear out harmful, evidence-less, unproven policies that have been favorites of the Obama administration, such as Race to the Top, or the merit-pay pushing Teacher Incentive Fund. With these programs no longer funded, the money can be better spent in those tried and true programs like Title I support to low-income children, or guaranteeing that Head Start will be there for every child who needs it.

Kelly (Mochamomma) Wickham is an assistant principal at a midwestern intermediate school, so when she writes about budget cuts that have marked her 19 year career in public education, she brings a lot of personal history and career perspective on the chronic inability to fully fund schools. As the wealth gap between low/middle income families and high-flying "1%ers" has increased, so have the extremes in likelihood of children to succeed. Children who enter school ready and well-nourished, with no medical or other issues are increasingly likely to have a chance at elite colleges and career paths. Children who come from more modest backgrounds have a steeper hill to climb to escape poverty, homelessness, illness, poor nutrition, an environment lacking books or support for learning, and more. This is a "wealth gap" that widens and worsens "outcome gaps." Mochamomma suggests that with the sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, we have a great opportunity to create revenue that would finally invest in ALL children so each one can succeed.

A Way Out: Urge President Obama To Take Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich's Advice

In Robert Reich's recent column, "The President's Opening Bid On A Grand Bargain: Aim High," he urges newly re-elected President Obama to come out strong in favor of deficit reduction through raising revenue. Personally, I love it. Here are highlights of how we can raise that revenue, in keeping with the Buffett Rule:

Why not go back sixty years when Americans earning over $1 million in today’s dollars paid 55.2 percent of it in income taxes, after taking all deductions and credits? If they were taxed at that rate now, they’d pay at least $80 billion more annually — which would reduce the budget deficit by about $1 trillion over the next decade. That’s a quarter of the $4 trillion in deficit reduction right there.

A 2% surtax on the wealth of the richest one-half of 1 percent would bring in another $750 billion over the decade. A one-half of 1 percent tax on financial transactions would bring in an additional $250 billion.


Raise the capital gains rate to match the rate on ordinary income and cap the mortgage interest deduction at $12,000 a year, and that’s another $1 trillion over ten years. So now we’re up to $3 trillion in additional revenue.

Eliminate special tax preferences for oil and gas, price supports for big agriculture, tax breaks and research subsidies for Big Pharma, unnecessary weapons systems for military contractors, and indirect subsidies to the biggest banks on Wall Street, and we’re nearly there.

End the Bush tax cuts on incomes between $250,000 and $1 million, and — bingo — we made it: $4 trillion over 10 years.

We're reducing the deficit by slowly drawing down from Iraq and Afghanistan. Have we forgotten what a peacetime economy looks like or how it works?

In California, I got tired of hearing boosterism about how we're the 9th largest economy in the world if we were a nation unto ourselves. Yet how could we starve our schools?

I'll bet when we look around and see the wealth in America alongside the grinding poverty, many of us come to the same conclusion.

It's time we started investing heavily in Americans at home, and most importantly, in the youngest Americans who'll be our future. If we stick with our newly re-elected president and the values we just re-affirmed of fairness, hard work, and equal opportunity, I'm hoping that like California, we can avoid any "cliffs" or "showdowns," and just keep working on getting what we need.

JOIN US: 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 policy. Let us know you'll be attending in the comments below!

UPDATED TO ADD: If you missed the Twitter Party, here are highlights!

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of strongly encourages our readers to post comments in response to blog posts. We value diversity of opinions and perspectives. Our goals for this space are to be educational, thought-provoking, and respectful. So we actively moderate comments and we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that undermine these goals. Thanks!