Cuts to education do not heal

Very rarely do policy makers find themselves faced with an opportunity to completely avoid an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Unlike the recent recession, Congress and the administration have everything they need to avoid sending our country over the fiscal cliff.

The looming fiscal cliff, the cuts of sequestration and our country’s ability to avoid them lie solely in the hands of our elected leaders in Congress and the White House. Now is the time to put politics aside and make decisions to help this country avoid the deep, blunt, across-the-board cuts of sequestration.

As a school system leader, I can assure you that education cuts do not heal, and that the impact of the sequester on education would be severe and far-reaching. The looming fiscal cliff and sequester threaten to undermine the success of our local schools in preparing students to be college/career ready. In a federal fiscal climate with a seemingly laser-focus on “cut, cut, cut,” it is more important than ever that our nation’s leaders recognize the important role of education in not only educating students, but in preparing a high-quality workforce for post-secondary opportunity, whether work or college.

Education budgets across Washington have persisted through unprecedented cuts attributable to the recession. The additional cuts of sequestration will devastate the already fragile economic reality of our local schools and will set the new baseline for future allocations. This is unacceptable. Schools already strive to do more with less.

In the Lakewood School District we understand the critical role education plays in long-term economic health. Our community strives to do more with an ever-smaller set of resources, and our hard work and success should not be jeopardized because Congress is incapable of assembling a responsible, balanced and bipartisan approach to avoid the fiscal cliff.

In Lakewood schools, sequestration will mean an estimated reduction of $63,000 in federal revenue that otherwise would have gone to address support in categorical programs such as special education, Title I and Career &Technical Education. With over 14 percent of our student population identified and receiving special education services, any cutbacks in services to some of our most neediest students is incomprehensible. Our district already has “skin in the game.” During the past four years our district has seen erosion in revenue of approximately $1 million. The prior five-year financial summary of state apportionment shows a decline in per pupil funding to school districts. Further federal cuts due to sequestration will continue to hamper districts’ ability to provide the necessary services to students.

Now is the time for action, now is the time for leadership. There is no room for error and thoughtless, blunt cuts. Please join Lakewood School District in urging our Congressional delegation — Rep. Rick Larsen, and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, to work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to intervene and avoid the sequester and fiscal cliff. We call on Congress to set aside differences and find common ground in a responsible approach that doesn’t disproportionately impact schools by gutting our national investment in education and long-term fiscal health and competitiveness.

Dennis Haddock is the Superintendent of the Lakewood School District.

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