After the fiscal cliff was averted in a last-second arrangement, the sequester was postponed until March 1 in an effort to give Congress more time to reach a deal. Unsurprisingly, however, Congress and President Obama have once again been unable to reach a consensus.
Consequently, the sequester has gone into effect with full force and has unleashed a series of devastating cuts to countless government programs. The Congressional Research Service defines sequestration as “the permanent cancellation of budgetary resources by a uniform percentage … applied to all programs, projects, and activities within a budget account.”
With political polarization at an all-time high, the stage is set for calamitous ramifications for education. According to the committee for Education Funding (CEF), the cuts to education alone are expected to be between $3.5 billion and $4.1 billion.
The Department of Education has released estimates regarding how exactly the sequester will impact education. Federal work-study grants will be cut by $49 million, which will force approximately 70,000 students to borrow money from other sources. However, the cost of borrowing will increase as well. As a result of the sequester, student loan origination fees will skyrocket, meaning loans will become increasingly inaccessible to low-income students. Estimates also include a $725 million cut to Title I funding, which funds schools with a large percentage of students from economically disadvantaged families. In addition, The Individuals with Disabilities Act is expected to see a cut of $1 billion in funding. This could mean that thousands of students with disabilities will be stripped of the resources they need to succeed. The list of cuts extends on and on, but experts agree that America’s most vulnerable students will bear the brunt of the damage.
Ultimately, the sequester has a disproportionate impact on low-income students, who, through no fault of their own, will be encumbered by higher costs to borrow, less federal work-study aid, and the slashing of Head Start and other programs. With the cost of higher education steadily climbing, low-income students will be unable to attend the best universities to which they have been accepted. In today’s competitive world market, we need our brightest and most motivated students to get the education they need and deserve regardless of economic status.
Students are not the only Americans affected by the sequester’s education cuts. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently predicted that as many as 40,000 teachers could be laid off. Frustrated with the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, Duncan explained on “Face the Nation” that “we could solve this tomorrow if folks had the will to compromise, to come to the table and do the right thing for children and to try and keep growing the middle class.” The cuts to education will result in increased class sizes, the elimination of after-school programs, less financial aid for college students, and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in education at all levels: early childhood, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary. Consequently, schools will be producing less competent graduates and the gap between the rich and poor will continue to grow.
It is time for the political fisticuffs in Washington to cease. Students can’t wait. Teachers can’t wait. This is an obstacle that we need to overcome now.