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Shortsighted Education Cuts in New Ryan Budget a Giant Step Backward

Cutting School Funding Threatens Student Achievement and Nation’s Economic Growth

The latest House Republican budget plan asks low-income and middle-class Americans to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while simultaneously delivering massive tax breaks to the richest 1 percent and preserving huge giveaways to Big Oil. It’s a recipe for repeating the mistakes of the Bush administration, during which middle-class incomes stagnated and only the privileged few enjoyed enormous gains.

Each component of the new House Republican budget threatens the middle class while doing nothing to add jobs or grow our economy. It ends the guarantee of decent insurance for senior citizens, breaking Medicare’s bedrock promise. It slashes investments in education, infrastructure, and basic research, all of which are key drivers of economic growth and mobility. And it cuts taxes for those at the top, asking the middle class to pick up the tab. It’s a budget designed to benefit the top 1 percent at everyone else’s expense.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, offered up a budget proposal today for fiscal year 2013 that would significantly cut discretionary government spending. This means a damaging cut to federal K-12 education funding is likely in his sight. The House proposal groups education, training, employment, and social services into one budget function that would be cut by about 20 percent from FY 2012 levels. Though the plan does not include details about which programs within this broad budget function would be affected, based on previous House budget plans, we can safely assume education would suffer cuts.

Decreasing funding to the lowest levels seen in years would not provide the investment in education needed to improve student achievement and lay the necessary foundation for our country’s future economic growth. We need to invest more in education, not less, in order to create a system that is more equitable and that produces American students who are more competitive in the global marketplace for talent.

The American people understand this. In a Harris poll conducted in February, 70 percent of the public opposes cuts in federal education aid. The only program to receive higher opposition to cuts was Social Security at 80 percent.

The American people are right to be concerned about our education system. The United States suffers from persistent achievement gaps between groups of students defined by race or family income. And our students also rank well behind those in economically competitive countries on international academic-achievement tests. Racial and income achievement gaps run counter to America’s founding ideals of an equal and just society. Further, lower levels of achievement are also associated with poorer health, lower earnings, and higher levels of incarceration.

These achievement gaps have tremendous economic consequences. A recent McKinsey report estimates that closing the achievement gaps between 1983 and 1998 would have resulted in a 2008 U.S. gross domestic product—our economy’s output of goods and services—that would have been significantly higher. The estimates of 2008 GDP gains in the report are $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher for closing the international gap, $310 billion to $525 billion higher for closing the racial gap, and $400 billion to $670 billion higher for closing the income gap. Continuing to tolerate these achievement gaps is tantamount to accepting a chronic, self-induced economic recession.

Federal education spending is projected to take an 8 percent to 9 percent cut because of the sequestration agreement that will go into effect in January 2013. Cuts of this magnitude will make it far more difficult for schools to provide the education that our students need in order to grow our economy and rebuild the middle class. Deeper cuts would put our students even further behind where they need to be.

The cuts in education that the House budget proposes are shortsighted and harmful for a number of reasons. First of all, continued investment in education is critical in order to put our economy on the path to sustained growth. Second, a reduction in federal support would take resources away from critically important programs at a time when states are also making significant cuts to education. Third, federal education programs provide more equitable resources for students who need it most—without federal support, many hard-fought gains would erode for children living in poverty.

To achieve desired levels of economic growth and live up to our founding ideals, the United States must increase the overall level of achievement of students in the K-12 education system and close both international achievement gaps and the persistent achievement gaps between groups of American children defined by ethnicity or family income. Simply put, the House budget plan is a huge step in the wrong direction.

Diana Epstein is a Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.

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