September 2011 Issue
August 31, 2011

Debt-ceiling deal likely to add more stress

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
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The recent debt-ceiling agreement struck in Washington could deliver a significant blow to the state's public school system.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said the deal "raises serious concerns about needed resources for public education, which already has suffered consecutive years of drastic cuts that threaten the futures of our students.

"For three years now, school districts across New York have been forced to bear the brunt of the state's fiscal constraints, forcing cuts in academic programs and services and the elimination of 30,000 teaching and school-related positions. This federal debt legislation will only aggravate this bleak situation by further reducing the necessary funding and resources students and schools need."

Though specific cuts to New York are not yet known, the agreement includes a $7 billion reduction in federal spending in fiscal year 2012 and calls for the establishment of a bipartisan "Super Committee" charged with slashing, by November, an additional $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending over the next decade. The Committee for Education Funding, made up of some 85 education advocacy groups, estimates those cuts could translate into a $3 billion reduction to the U.S. Department of Education.

The drastic reduction in federal aid is expected to put additional stress on state budgets — posing an especially significant challenge in New York where more than $1 billion in funding for public K-12 and higher education was slashed this year. When combined with the 2 percent tax cap passed recently by the state Legislature, the debt deal could heighten the serious fiscal challenges schools statewide are already facing.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the union is concerned about the pressure that will now be placed on state budgets, and criticized the debt deal for not requiring any sacrifice from either corporations or the wealthy.

"We understand that, given the timing, this deal was necessary to avoid default and stabilize the financial markets; nevertheless, we are disappointed that it appears our most vulnerable citizens will bear the brunt of this solution," Weingarten said. "The deal does not create jobs or further invest in our infrastructure or our children. In fact, it will likely lead to huge cuts in programs for children, seniors and those who can least afford it."

Meanwhile, though both Medicaid and Medicare were spared from the first round of cuts, Congressional leaders made it clear that no program is necessarily safe from the chopping block.

A cut in Medicaid assistance would not only have an adverse impact on health care for the poor, it would also pose potential fiscal problems for counties in New York since they are required to pay a share of the state's Medicaid costs. If the state were to pass on the burden of a Medicaid funding cut to counties, property taxes and local funding levels for community colleges could be impacted.

"We urge lawmakers serving on this committee not to be shortsighted," said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. "Cuts to education, Medicaid, and financial aid are irresponsible; they ignore the well-documented return on investments in education in the form of a more educated work force earning higher wages and feeding that money back into the economy."

Van Roekel said the fact that the issue of new taxes has been "punted" to the committee rather than being addressed in the debt-ceiling legislation "is especially hard to stomach." Iannuzzi agreed.

"Once again, access to the American dream is made more difficult by short-sighted policies and cuts," he said. "Forcing students and working families to repeatedly shoulder the burden of our economic challenges while asking nothing of the nation's wealthiest citizens is not only wrong, but also immoral."

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