'The worst of all bargains'
Sequester cuts could kill efforts to bridge historic achievement disparities
By André Coleman 03/13/2013
If Congress cannot come to an agreement on the federal budget by the end of March, automatic cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 could go into effect, and, among other things, cripple decades-long efforts to close academic achievement gaps between minority and white students in the Pasadena Unified School District PUSD.
The across-the-board cuts — which would affect nearly every government agency, including the Defense Department — would be particularly painful in the areas of education and health care.
The cuts were approved by President Obama as an incentive for Congress to trim $1.5 trillion from the federal budget over 10 years and will automatically go into effect on March 27, when the resolution controlling current federal spending expires.
“In our zeal to cut the debt, we must not reduce our investment in the future or we will have struck the worst of all bargains,” said Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of Burbank.
“It was a bad deal and bad policy to start with,” said Michael Alexander of the Pasadena Patriots, the local chapter of the tea party. “Neither [Speaker of the House John] Boehner nor Obama should have entered into that agreement.”
When the deadline comes, education funds earmarked for local programs for low-income and special education students will be cut by almost $1 million. Other cuts to early childhood education would mean the elimination of 25 existing local programs.
All told, the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) will face a reduction in revenue of about 5.9 percent, or $900,972.23, in funds, mostly those provided for disadvantaged students and teacher training and recruitment, as well as money allocated through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
“The kids these impact the most are the ones who need the most help,” said PUSD Superintendent John Gundry.
African-American and Latino students make up more than 90 percent of the district’s 18,000 student population but do not achieve academically at the same levels as white students attending the same district schools.
Gundry talked about the cuts Friday during a press conference held at the Mother’s Club, an early learning center in Northwest Pasadena. Also attending the meeting were Pasadena Board of Education President Renatta Cooper, Democratic Congress members Judy Chu of Pasadena and Adam Schiff of Glendale, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and several parents.
“You hear a lot of talk about closing the achievement gap,” Gundry said. “We already know what we need to do to close the achievement gap. We need high quality early education and high quality after-school programs and an extended day at school for at-risk kids, but these are things that have already been cut. We give lip service to the value of public education, but we have to put our resources into it. Now these cuts could come and do even more damage to those programs.”
The district has already sent out layoff notices to 78 teachers in order to help close a projected $8 million budget gap the district faces in the coming year.
“It is fairly devastating,” Cooper said of the sequester cuts. “It hurts some of the programs for dropout recovery. We have to keep going. It is always more difficult when you have fewer resources. We still have to work on dropout prevention. Because of our moral and ethical mandate, we don’t get to say, ‘Let’s not worry about kids who are not performing well.’ We still have to do it and we still have to go forward.”
In California, projected cuts include $135 million from funds provided by Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), $100 million in funding from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), $78 million in Head Start funding for early childhood education, and $5.2 million for low-income students.
Cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Care and Development Fund could leave 30,000 low-income children without child care subsidies and access to developmental programs. Seventy thousand children could be kicked out of Head Start programs. Funds for disadvantaged kids could be slashed at 2,700 schools statewide, disrupting more than 1 million students.
But the cuts don’t stop with childhood education. In higher education, the Marines have already stopped its Military Education Tuition Assistance Program. In addition, funding for federal work grants could be cut by $49 million. All told, 7,200 special education teachers could be laid off.
“Sequestration slashes spending without considering who gets hurt. It cuts education spending hindering our kids’ ability to reach their full potential,” Chu said. “Education is the key to their brighter future, not some slush fund to be gutted when politicians want to save a dime or two. The experiences of local officials and parents being squeezed by these irresponsible and haphazard approaches to governing reinforces the need for Congress to come together and repeal these harmful cuts.”
The cuts would also impact medical research grants, health care and public safety.
“With sequestration, education will be among the hardest hit of the nation’s priorities,” Schiff said in a statement. “This is tragically shortsighted — the most important investments we make are in our schools and in the next generation. ”
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on March 3, Boehner told host David Gregory that Republicans had done all they could to avoid making the cuts.
“We’ve known about this for 16 months, and yet, even today there’s no plan from Senate Democrats or the White House to replace the sequester,” he said. “And over the last 10 months, House Republicans have acted twice to replace the sequester.”
According to Schiff, Congress has already enacted plans that will reduce the debt by about $2 trillion, but another $2 trillion must be trimmed to stop the automatic cuts from taking effect.
Schiff said Republicans were hampered by a divide in the party between extremists and conservatives serving in Congress.
“Reducing the debt is important, but it isn’t a substitute for an economic plan,” Schiff said.
Alexander could not agree more.
“It would appear it began with Obama, but it is bad policy, and no one should have entered into it,” said Alexander.
“It is no substitute for a budget,” Alexander said. “This substitutes political theater for sound fiscal policy.”