Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hitting the Ceiling: What the Debt Limit Deal Means for Public Education

President Obama and Speaker Boehner hit the links on Jun. 21 to discuss a solution to the debt ceiling crisis. Seven weeks later, we have a deal that may spell big cuts for public education programs. (Source: Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)
While Washington might be rejoicing over the fact that Congress was able to reach a compromise before the global economy imploded, we don't yet have a solid understanding of what the debt ceiling deal might mean for public education programming at the state level (where the vast majority of education funding is allocated and originates).

Today, the Washington Post shed some light on education's prospects in the budget-cutting deal. The details remain sketchy, but it seems pretty likely that federal spending cuts will put states in a position where spending cuts can be easily justified. After all, while Social Security and Medicare funds are immune from budget trimming, education remains vulnerable.

From the perspective of a state, education budget cuts make perfect sense. After all, we've been told that an extraordinary teacher can handle just about anything – from class size increases to pay cuts. With states facing tremendous budget crises of their own, it seems logical to "trim the fat" in educational programs.

So, in the end, this big compromise that ostensibly preserved the economy will inflict more pain on communities that need the educational programs that are susceptible to cuts. These programs, like Head Start and after school tutoring for low-income students, coud likely be cut in the name of efficiency, in the name of a compromise that saved the very rich the burden of a modest tax increase. That said, nothing's certain yet. We'll have to wait and see what and how much each state decides to cut from K-12 budgets.

What can be said of such a deal other than, "Watch out!"? Watch out, a critical education program that you value or even rely upon may be vanishing soon. That's the way compromise works these days – trading uncertainty for... even more uncertainty.

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