02/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cuts Hurt: The Long-Term Ill Effects of Shortsighted Education Cuts

When the economy catches a cold, our schools get pneumonia. Today, pneumonia is spreading from state to state, and our students are suffering the symptoms.

In troubled times such as these, the battered economy will affect virtually every sector of society. That's why I believe we must take action to avoid draconian cuts to education programs. If we shortchange our kids now, they won't get a second chance for a better education. And, as the economy wreaks havoc on many children's lives, school offers them stability and a haven. Another reason to prevent cuts to education is purely pragmatic: A strong education system is necessary for a strong economy.

Reports from around the country prove that children already are suffering ill effects from the poor health of the economy.

• A Florida teacher reports that because of the economy, many of her students have difficulty doing homework at night because their electricity has been turned off.

• Another Florida teacher says that budget cuts have led to huge class sizes and the number of students she teaches has jumped from 130 to 192.

• In Philadelphia, where earlier swings of the budget ax already have left many schools without libraries, officials plan to shutter 11 public libraries.

• In Shreveport, La., high school paraprofessionals have been transferred to elementary and middle schools, causing concern about students with disabilities being mainstreamed into regular classrooms as they enter high school, without the services of specially trained education staff.

This is just a sampling of the reports I have seen and heard illustrating the ailments plaguing public schools, including numerous accounts of teachers and school support personnel being laid off, which has resulted in larger class sizes, shorter kindergarten days and other consequences that will impair educational progress. This is harsh medicine, indeed.

The economic crisis must be addressed -- quickly. The AFT today launched a campaign, called "Fight for America's Future: It's Dollars and Sense," to urge policymakers to protect the social investments that make America strong. We will take our message to President-elect Obama and to members of Congress, who are shaping a national economic recovery program at this very moment. And since AFT members are on the frontlines in America's classrooms, we will press the importance of smart investments in statehouses, school board meetings, county councils and anywhere crucial decisions are made about our children's futures.

Smart investments can provide students with class sizes that don't swell to unmanageable levels. Smart investments can ensure that children with special needs have the staff and supports they require. They can allow an intense focus on low-performing schools and a commitment to make every school safe, orderly and up-to-date. And smart investments can guarantee that higher education is accessible and affordable.

In this time of difficult decisions about how to right our listing economic ship, we must take a longer view toward the future well-being of our young people and of the economy. The decisions officials make today must not only protect, but improve, the cornerstones of our society, especially in education and other essential services.

Children today are coming of age in an economy that demands ever-increasing knowledge, skill and adaptability. A rigorous, well-rounded education is vitally important in both good times and bad. If we don't fight for America's future now, our children will feel the ill effects for years to come. I invite you to learn more about our campaign here.