Super Committee’s F Hurts Neediest Students

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The failure of Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to reach a compromise has increased the likelihood that automatic, across-the-board spending cuts will be triggered early in 2013. Some in Washington are betting that those cuts will never happen, but the president has made it clear that he won’t let Congress dodge reducing the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Either way, it looks like some cuts are on the horizon, so we thought it worth examining the impact across-the-board cuts might have on education.

The automatic cuts — also known as sequestration — call for nearly $300 billion in domestic discretionary spending cuts through 2021. Those cuts would be split evenly between defense and non-defense spending. However, since non-defense discretionary spending, which includes education, makes up only about 18 percent of the federal budget, spreading the pain equally between the two sectors would result in disproportionately large, across-the-board cuts to non-defense programs.

For education programs like Title I, this would mean cuts of about 8 percent each year beginning in 2013. In fiscal year 2012 that amounts to approximately $1.1 billion less in Title I funding. Together with education cuts already in effect at the state level, this would significantly reduce public investment in schools with large populations of low-income students, the very students who need more — not less — from our educational system.

Even Pell Grants, which would be protected from the across-the-board cuts in 2013, will eventually face cuts. As with the budget reductions to Title I, further digs into the Pell budget (which was trimmed in fiscal year 2011) will hinder our nation’s ability to compete globally. Nearly 10 million students rely on Pell to afford college. Nearly half of African-American undergraduates and 40 percent of Latino undergraduates receive Pell grants. Additional reductions to the program will result in fewer of these students being able to obtain postsecondary degrees. That doesn’t just jeopardize the future of individual students; it threatens the health of our economy and our democracy. America needs MORE college graduates, not fewer.

Given the high level of partisan rancor, and Congress’ persistent failure to address the issues that matter most to our nation, the Joint Select Committee’s failure may not come as a surprise, but it is a cause for concern. If the automatic across-the-board cuts are triggered, they will greatly reduce federal support for low-income students both at the K-12 and higher education levels. That is wrong for students and for our nation. Our country’s future depends on greater investment in the educational success of all children.

— Jim Davy