07/18/2012 10:18 am ET Updated Sep 17, 2012

As Congress Fiddles, Students and Schools Do a Slow Burn

The NEA convention always inspires me, and the meeting this year was no exception. Everyone in attendance could sense our members' passion for public education, and our willingness to take charge of our professions in order to help students achieve.

After all, that's why we became educators. We're here to help students, not wage political battles. Yet sometimes those battles are necessary -- and this is one of those times. The outcome of the 2012 elections will greatly influence our ability to help students. And there's no better example than the issue of taxes, which has been in the news lately.

President Obama has proposed ending the Bush tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans -- those with annual incomes above $250,000. He also wants to extend tax cuts for the middle class, which will expire at the end of the year if no action is taken.

This is the right path to rebuild our economy. The wealthiest Americans need to pay their fair share so our nation can invest in public education and other important programs. And our economy, while growing, is still fragile. This is no time for a tax hike on the middle class.

Unfortunately, Mitt Romney and the Republican leaders in Congress are refusing to compromise on this critical issue. Their "politics of obstruction" would hold middle class families hostage and threaten our entire economy.

The urgency cannot be overstated. If Congress fails to take action this year, our federal budget faces automatic cuts that will devastate public education. According to an analysis by NEA, federal education funding would drop to levels not seen in a decade, even though our public schools now serve 5.4 million more students than they did 10 years ago.

From pre-K to higher education, nearly all federal education programs would be slashed, including Title I, IDEA, after-school programs, rural education, English Language Learner grants, and career and technical education.

As educators, we realize how badly these cuts would harm students:
  • 16 million children living in poverty;
  • Students in small, rural communities;
  • Children attending Head Start programs;
  • College students who help meet expenses through work study.

It is shameful and outrageous to try to balance the federal budget on the backs of our youth. Our greatest resource is the ingenuity and creativity of the American people -- but that resource will be squandered if we fail to give our children a quality education.

I am excited about putting the strength of our three million members to work for the benefit of students. In order to have that opportunity, however, we must work to elect candidates -- at the local, state and national levels -- who will stand up for public education at this critical time.

Our children deserve policymakers who are committed to adequate resources, enlightened education policies, and building a better, stronger future for our public schools and universities.