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How the budget crisis may victimize schools

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Posted: Saturday, December 8, 2012 12:00 am

Schools across the nation face savage cuts in education funding that will most adversely affect low-income districts and their students.

In her recent Lodi-News Sentinel story titled "School Districts Face Sequestration Cuts," Jennifer Bonnett outlined what the budget crisis, if left unresolved, could mean to local pupils. Summed up, sequestration provisions mandated in the 2011 Budget Control Act could cut public education funds 8.2 percent ($1.2 trillion), force larger classes as fewer courses would be offered, and result in drastic cut-backs in teachers' jobs, support staff and extracurricular activities.

Few understand the overall implications that sequestration, scheduled to occur on Jan. 2, 2013, would have on education funding. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services and Education, released the first comprehensive report on sequestration's impact on dozens of education, health and labor programs.

According to Harkin's report and based on the Congressional Budget Office's projections, three federal programs essential to national education — Title I funds for poor students, state grants for special education, and the Head Start public preschool program — would lose billions in funding over the next decade. As many as 15,000 teachers and aides could lose their jobs, and 10,000 special education workers could be laid off.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that the budget impasse, especially as it pertains to school funding, is "playing chicken" with students' lives. Seemingly, everyone agrees that "draconian cuts" — as they are always referred to — would be an outrage.

But here's the other side of the argument, as presented by two retired U. S. Representatives, California's Chris Cox and Texas' Bill Archer. Cox is the former Securities and Exchange Commissioner; both Cox and Archer served on President Clinton's Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal in an article ominously titled "Why $16 Trillion Only Hints at the True Debt," Cox and Archer insist that imposing higher taxes on the wealthy without deep cuts in education, military spending and Social Security entitlements wouldn't even make a tiny dent in the budget gap. They compare the idea of balancing the budget through higher taxes on the rich to bailing out the Pacific Ocean with a teaspoon.

The congressmen estimate that more than $8 trillion would have to be collected just to keep from amassing further debt. Even if Congress imposed a 100-percent tax increase and took all personal earning above $250,000 per annum, it would generate only $1.9 trillion — enough to keep the government running until July 2013, but not a day longer.

According to Cox and Archer, the federal government's unfunded liabilities for 2011 are $87 trillion, more than 500 percent of the $15 trillion gross domestic product. In 2011, Congress spent $10 billion daily to reach an annual $3.7 trillion total.

Cox, former chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, and Archer, once the chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, theorize that the deficit numbers have grown so astronomically — and well beyond the average citizen's ability to comprehend — because the government, unlike the private sector, doesn't publish financial statements. Such an accounting, Cox and Archer contend, would raise alarm not only among citizens but also on Capitol Hill.

For years, critics have insisted that the "can" (meaning the huge budget gaps) shouldn't be continuously kicked down the road for others to deal with. Now, however, it appears that the "can" has reached the end of that proverbial road.

Whether President Obama and House Majority Leader John Boehner can hammer out a solution remains to be seen. I'm sure they would rather leave to the next administration. But, unfortunately for Obama and Boehner, time has run out.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Before moving to Lodi, he worked in investment banking. Contact Joe at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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