Later this month, Virginia families begin sending their children back to school. Thanks to Congress, many are going to be in for quite a surprise.
Cuts in funding to education approved earlier this year will cost Virginia’s schools $17 million, affecting an estimated 12,500 students. The cuts won’t be felt equally but rather will target programs that serve low-income families: No Child Left Behind Title I funding, Head Start and Early Head Start, and funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, to name a few examples.
As bad as that sounds, things could be even worse. The U.S. House has passed a proposal by budget committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan that would cut federal education spending by $6.9 billion. The National Education Association estimates that the Ryan budget would affect 50 million kids across the country who would feel the brunt of the cuts through larger class sizes, less individualized attention and support in class, and fewer classroom teachers and aides for students with special needs.
I cannot imagine a larger disconnect between our so-called leaders in Congress and the American public over the issue of investing in education. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 97 percent of Americans think improving schools is an important priority for our government. And a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that six out of ten Americans want to increase education funding and only 10 percent think education funding should be cut.
The people who create jobs and drive our economy know the importance of investing in education. Small business owners and manufacturers need a highly trained work force. And yet: the U.S. is badly underperforming when it comes to public education. Seventy percent of eighth graders can’t read at grade level. A 2012 analysis of industrialized nations by the global education company Pearson ranked America as 17th in quality of education.
And what about those Virginia families whose teenagers do graduate from high school with a quality education? Well, good luck. Since 1978, college tuition in this country has risen by 900 percent. In 2010, student debt actually eclipsed credit card debt as the second-largest consumer debt in the country, second only to mortgage debt. Meanwhile, community college enrollment in 2012 was at a 20-year low.
We need to face the facts. From pre-K education all the way through college, we are failing when it comes to providing children with a quality education. The last thing we need to be doing right now is cutting funding for education. But that is exactly what some in Congress are trying to do.
At Virginia Fair Share, we believe that every child deserves a fair shot in life and that begins with a quality education. That’s why, across the state, we’ve launched a campaign called Kids, Not Cuts! to inform the public about the dangers of cutting education spending. We’ve knocked on doors of tens of thousands of Virginians and collected more than 6,000 signatures opposing further cuts to our schools.
Virginia parents know that guiding a child through the pitfalls of adolescence all the way to adulthood is difficult enough. Handicapping that child with an underperforming education system handcuffed by a lack of resources just makes it worse.
Christopher Ah-San is assistant director for Virginia Fair Share, a grassroots field and advocacy group.