There have been countless news stories about the damage that will be inflicted on our economy if we go over the fiscal cliff. But reporters have almost completely ignored the impact it will have on children and families if Republicans and Democrats can't broker a last-minute agreement. Four billion will be automatically slashed from education programs for our neediest students.
These cuts will devastate children like four-year-old Kamel Clisby. Kamel is in his second year of a Chicago Head Start program, and if the budget isn't resolved Head Start will be cut by $590 million. Kamel's mother Victoria volunteers three times a week in the Head Start classroom, and she sees how Head Start positions Kamel for success in elementary school. Victoria reports that Kamel has learned his colors, his alphabet and his numbers to 50. She told me that he is also practicing listening and waiting his turn to speak: crucial skills for when he starts kindergarten.
Juan Manuel Gutierrez, a father of four in Phoenix, is concerned about the potential Head Start cuts and the $1.1 billion in slated cuts to Title 1 funds for low-income learners. Gutierrez' two older children didn't attend Head Start, and he says it shows. "I can see [my older children] struggle once they reach a certain level," Gutierrez said through a translator. "My younger children who went through Head Start are more ready to go to school and to face challenges." The cuts to Title 1, which are used to educate low-income children and to involve their parents in student success, could shut down district parenting classes that Gutierrez and other parents rely on for information about everything from motivating children to safe driving.
Congressional inaction would also mean $978 million of cuts for special education students, an idea almost incomprehensible to Tam Smith, a Memphis special education teacher and the mother of a special needs son. Last year, Smith taught a special education English class of 30 ninth graders, all of whom arrived at least two grade levels behind. Knowing that most of her class was ADHD, Smith took advantage of the class's smart board and audio resources to mix up the lessons, and she used funding for after-school tutoring to make sure her students received individualized attention. The result? All of her students progressed to "basic" or "proficient" levels on the state test at the end of the year. Smith says that without that funding for technology and individual tutoring for special education students, her students would not have made that leap.
We can't let policymakers in Washington forget about kids like Kamel, parents like Victoria and Juan Miguel and teachers like Tam. Our children's education shouldn't be up for negotiation.
Going over the fiscal cliff will not only impact our economy, but will also have serious consequences for our education system, especially for kids who depend on critical programs like Head Start, Title 1 and special education.
Congress and the president must settle these negotiations in the next three weeks. Go to Stand for Children and ask them to maintain critical programs for our children and our future.