It's rare that a single vote could decimate an entire segment of America's nonprofit sector and place millions of children and families in jeopardy, but that's exactly what's at stake in Monday's vote in the U.S. Senate on Amendment 4697.
The amendment, proposed by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) as a rider to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), and would ban all congressionally directed spending (earmarks) for the next three years. The savings would be trivial -- $16 billion, or one-half of one percent of the $3.5 trillion federal budget -- but the impact would be catastrophic for many of the national programs earmarks support.
All Americans are familiar with stories of abuse within the current earmark system: Jack Abramoff, the Bridge to Nowhere, etc. But most of our fellow citizens have not heard about the high-quality programs the current system has helped to build and expand nationwide.
Federal funding through earmarks has enabled programs like Reach Out and Read,
Teach For America, Reading is Fundamental, and the National Writing Project to serve millions more children and families than otherwise possible.
These programs are not what come to mind when many Americans think of the word "earmark." They're backed by strong evidence bases, and they have successfully used their federal funding to leverage matching dollars from corporations, foundations, and individuals nationwide.
This year, the research-proven school readiness initiative Reach Out and Read was awarded $6 million in federal funding. With that funding, Reach Out and Read leveraged an additional $21 million in non-federal funding, enabling the organization to serve four million children and families nationwide.
Each of these children receives a brand new, age-appropriate book at every checkup, and their parents get reading tips and advice from the pediatrician. This simple intervention results in children entering kindergarten with larger vocabularies and a six-month developmental edge, significantly reducing their risks for illiteracy, poverty, and dependency in the future. As scores of research studies prove, that creates a more competitive American workforce and results in millions more dollars in future cost savings for taxpayers (remedial reading, school failure, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and violent crime).
The proposed earmark ban would cripple programs like Reach Out and Read, and would negatively impact the future economic potential of the children and families the program serves.
That's why I've joined together with the leaders of a dozen other nonprofit education organizations (Center for Civic Education, Close Up Foundation, Communities In Schools, Cooperative Education Exchange Program, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, National History Day, National Writing Project, New Leaders for New Schools, Project GRAD, Reading is Fundamental, Teach For America, and VSA) to urge our Senators to vote against Senator Coburn's shortsighted amendment.
Please join us and contact your Senator today to urge him/her to vote against Amendment 4697 and invest in early education, so that together we can break the cycle of poverty and dependency in our country.