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Stopping the Sequester

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Since the election earlier this month, political conversation has moved to a new issue: sequestration, part of the across-the-board federal budget cut of $1.2 trillion that will occur in January 2013 unless Congress acts.

Sequestration became law as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the U.S. debt ceiling limit and established caps on discretionary spending (including spending on education, national parks, defense, medical and scientific research, infrastructure and more) that would reduce spending on these programs by $1 trillion through 2021. This Act also created the “Super Committee,” a bipartisan committee that included members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate and was charged with identifying an additional $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings over ten years. Their failure would trigger the sequester.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the toxic political climate in Washington over the past few years, the Super Committee did in fact fail. And we are currently waiting to see if Congress will replace sequestration with a balanced approach to deficit reduction.

If Congress fails to act, it will impact virtually every aspect of American life, including education. While the numbers aren’t final, estimates show that sequestration will result in a loss of nearly $5 billion to education. The National Education Association estimates that it will impact 9.3 million students attending pre-k (including Head Start), elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools. They see 78,400 potential job losses (both in the classroom and in support roles), which will result in fewer teachers and larger class sizes. School administrators anticipate losses of after-school, enrichment and summer programs; reduced course offerings; reduced extracurricular options; deferred maintenance; cuts to transportation and more. Reductions to federal programs dedicated to students with special needs, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is projected to lose about $986 million, could lead to reductions in services for special education students. The list goes on.

It is critical that Congress act to prevent sequestration. Several members of the Learning First Alliance offer resources to help you learn more about the issue and pressure Congress to do what is right for the nation and its children. Please take advantage of them to do what you can to encourage their action.

Image from the public domain via Wikimedia Commons