States and school districts may have to begin tightening their belts as education funding faces tough challenges in both the House and Senate. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) recently announced subcommittee spending cuts for the current 2011 fiscal year. The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education subcommittee will see a significant cut in spending if the appropriations bill is approved. According to Chairman Rogers, education will see a 4% cut below the funding allotted in fiscal year 2010. However, this number is misleading as the FY 2010 base used for comparison is lower than the FY 2011 current continuing resolution (CR) level under which the federal government is currently operating until March 4. The main difference in funding between the FY 2010 level and the CR is that the CR includes $5.667 billion to payoff the Pell Grant shortfall. Thus, relative to the CR, the cut could be by 7.3% or $5.1 billion, a significant cut in education funding.

Education funding could face even further cuts in the Senate where Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) have proposed a measure known as the CAPS Act that would impose a statutory cap on all federal spending regardless of whether that spending is mandatory or discretionary. Additionally, two versions of a constitutional amendment have been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) respectively. Both would require a balanced federal budget and would limit total spending to no more than 20% of GDP. Sen. Hatch’s amendment already has 25 co-sponsors (all of whom are Republican).

Some members of Congress have voiced their disapproval of the proposed cuts only to argue they are still not deep enough. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has been the leading proponent of deeper budget cuts. The current proposal will decrease spending by $32 billion through the end of the fiscal year. In an interview with ABC News, Sen. Paul said of that number, “It’s really not going to touch the problem…there’s a disconnect between Republicans who want a balanced budget but aren’t maybe yet brave enough to talk about the cuts to come.” Paul has proposed a budget plan that would cut spending by $500 billion and would, in effect, discontinue the Department of Education.

In stark contrast to these deep and devastating cuts proposed by members of Congress, recent public opinion polls show that Americans strongly oppose cuts to education spending. Three separate polls conducted last January by Gallup, CNN, and CBS reveal that the public values federal spending on education and would rather see other programs cut before education funding. Americans are in agreement that the federal deficit needs to be reduced and that federal budget cuts are the preferred method of doing so.

However, when asked what federal programs should be significantly cut and which programs prevented from major cuts the results were clearly in favor of sparing education funding. Only 8% of the 1,036 adults who participated in the CBS poll favored cuts to education. Similarly, the CNN poll shows Americans favor sparing education funding from cuts by a ratio of 3 to 1. In the Gallup poll, numbers show a stronger opposition to cuts in education than for Social Security and Medicare. To view the polls click here: http://www.pollingreport.com/budget.htm

There appears to be a disconnect between the significant cuts to federal education funding recently proposed in Congress and the general support of education funding shown in the these three polls. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats have not, as yet, shown any organized or focused opposition to the proposed cuts. NASSP is opposed to education funding cuts on principle and encourages members to contact their members of Congress now to voice their opinion and explain, through the eyes of a school leader, why a loss in education funding is also a loss to every student and to our nation’s long-term vitality.

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