Ed Policy: Fiscal Cliff or a Precipitous Abyss?

By: Melody Rivera

“A number of nations are out-educating us today in the STEM disciplines—and if we as a nation don’t turn that around, those nations will soon be out-competing us in a knowledge-based, global economy.” This was the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s recent statement on the results of the 2011 TIMSS and PIRLS Assessments and their potential impact on our nation’s future.

Mr. Duncan’s concern comes at a time when the U.S. is facing the fiscal cliff and its potential to evoke economic disaster across the U.S. Although some financial gurus say the fiscal cliff is more of a slope, the fact is that in the world of education this is set to be a precipitous abyss laden with failure.

According to Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association, the federal cuts in education of 8.2% and $4.8 billion will affect 9 million students. The budget cuts to all federal discretionary spending programs will mean even less help for an already struggling American learning system. Van Roekel also said the cuts in education will impact 98% of American public school students so that the wealthiest 2% can have a tax break.

Programs that would be cut include:

• Title 1 education programs that aid low income students
• IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which supports the education of special needs students
• Language Acquisition state grants, which aid English language learning students
• Rural Education Achievement Program, which helps small, rural school districts
• Improving Teacher Quality Education, which contributes to the professional development of our teachers.

It’s time to ask lawmakers: At what cost is this nation ‘saving’ money? Is an ignorant nation with only the wealthiest 2% receiving the chance at equal
education the price we must pay to get America out of this fiscal gorge?

Let’s ask Finland, Singapore, Canada and South Korea whether these were the fundamental steps they took when they decided to improve their educational
systems and surpass us in global education rankings.

Since teacher professional development is crucial to implement the new federal mandates of the Teacher Evaluation and Common Core Standards, I feel pinned against the wall as an educator. I am mandated by federal law to adhere to both federal mandate laws and although I was promised professional development to ensure my success and transition to comply with these programs, funding for help with such transition may be eliminated.

The kind of loss in education funding the federal government proposes to “fix” our economic turmoil, will continue to yield ignorance across our nation. As a world language classroom teacher, I will face the reality of the cuts first hand, as some of the proposed cuts would affect language acquisition programs in my home state of Massachusetts. It’s an understatement to say that I am deeply concerned and appalled at the prospect of cutting back funding on education at a time when we need it the most.

What saddens me the most is that once again, the students negatively affected will be those in our urban and rural school systems who depend on federal funding for their education. And here we are again, back to the topic of poverty and its impact on the success or failure of U.S. education.

Melody Rivera is a World Language Teacher in the Chicopee, MA school district.

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Comments (1)

  1. Franco Walls

    Your piece was very well written and very heartfelt, however, I feel it was a bit misleading and biased. You based much of your piece on what the President of the NEA said about the fiscal cliff. Van Roekel ,who along with many of the rest of the nation’s union leaders helped re-elect president Obama, is pushing for the very tax increases that our president is also calling for. (The NEA also spent 5 Million in attack adds towards Republicans during this last election cycle – so…I honestly don’t trust his motives or that of the organization that takes our money with or without our consent – though the cuts he mentions would all occur if we don’t reach a compromise)

    “Among the laws set to change at midnight on December 31, 2012, are the end of last year’s temporary payroll tax cuts (resulting in a 2% tax increase for workers), the end of certain tax breaks for businesses, shifts in the alternative minimum tax that would take a larger bite, the end of the tax cuts from 2001-2003, and the beginning of taxes related to President Obama’s health care law. At the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011 will begin to go into effect. According to Barron’s, over 1,000 government programs – including the defense budget and Medicare are in line for “deep, automatic cuts.”

    Why are we in this mess? Because our debt is out of control and these measures were put in place to force us to make compromises to save our country’s fiscal future from our inept government.

    “Lawmakers have had three years to address this issue, but Congress – mired in political gridlock – has largely put off the search for a solution rather than seeking to solve the problem directly. Republicans want to cut spending and avoid raising taxes, while Democrats are looking for a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.”

    What should have happened was Obama bringing everyone together and compromising but instead he was dividing, and polarizing the electorate (as is expected of incumbent presidents running for re-election) during his 3 year long re-election campaign. He also said that he would not budge on taxes, meaning he was not willing to compromise.

    You are right…it is sad that those that would get most hurt by this are those poor students – but let me point out that most of those who are dependent upon the federal government for their basic needs voted for our current president, and due to the climate he helped create in Washington falling off the fiscal cliff is a legitimate possibility.

    You do discuss our floundering educational system in this piece which is lost a bit in the policy and politics. But lets just say that there is a lot more than the issue of funding that has our performance in the “STEM disciplines” trailing behind other nations.

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