Students and Sequestration

When students speak, we need to listen. And when students advocate for their own public education, their voices speak truth to power. Yesterday, two Pittsburgh students made themselves heard loud and clear with eloquent letters to the editor about the impact of budget cuts on our schools. (See full text at the bottom of this post.)

Both students were speaking specifically about the looming federal tax and spending cuts that will come with sequestration. That’s the “fiscal cliff” that we’ve been hearing so much about – which, according to economists is actually the wrong metaphor, since it is more of a slope – that will trigger automatic, across the board budget cuts to departments including education, unless Congress gets its act in gear and makes a deal. Those cuts would be felt starting next fall, for the 2013-14 academic year, and would hit programs such as Title I and Head Start, which provide support for low income students.

The Pittsburgh Public School District alone estimates that it will lose $3.5 million next year if sequestration takes effect. That’s an 8.2% decrease in funding that it simply cannot afford, and would take a huge bite out of direct support for equity programs. [Post-Gazette, 11-20-12] I applaud the Pittsburgh Public School Board, which took a stand a few weeks ago and passed a resolution opposing sequestration. This Board has not been terribly vocal on many policy issues affecting public education, and this could signal a welcome change as we all stand together for our schools.

Federal funds account for only about ten cents out of each dollar for most school districts. But as with most budget cuts, some of the poorest districts will be hit the hardest. (To view the impact of sequestration on your school district, see this data which I have pulled from an analysis performed by the American Association of School Administrators: Impact of Sequestration on PA School Districts.) And while both of the students writing letters yesterday to the Post-Gazette are rightfully worried about the potential loss of federal dollars, they also expressed a real understanding of what is happening to our public schools.

Angelina Winbush, a senior from Bloomfield, tutors students in a Pittsburgh Public School that lacks enough textbooks for children to take home to study. “Inadequate funding for education is not only causing a textbook shortage,” she said, “it is causing art programs to vanish, teachers to be laid off, schools to close and students to drop out.” Winbush argues, “Education is not a gift — it is an investment in our nation’s future.”

Lamar Shields, a Pittsburgh Public School graduate from Homewood, now attends Community College of Allegheny County and hopes to transfer to the University of Pittsburgh to study child psychology. He writes, “Our schools need enough support to keep class sizes small and higher education needs to be affordable.” He worries that additional budget cuts “may cause teacher layoffs, and consequently larger classes, leading to less attention and support for students.” Both of these students argue that it’s time to allow the Bush era tax cuts for the top 2% of earners in this country to expire.

Wise words from two young people. Our legislators had better be listening.

——————

Invest in education, not in top earners

In response to “Little Movement Is Made on Fiscal Cliff Budget Talks” (Dec. 7), instead of extending the Bush tax cuts for the highest-earning 2 percent, we can better serve our nation by investing in education.

As an active volunteer within the Somali refugee community in Pittsburgh, I have spent much time helping Somali students with their homework. One of my regular students whom I tutor is a 10th grader studying at her neighborhood Pittsburgh public high school, working toward her dream of becoming teacher. She is incredibly studious and takes academics seriously.

I was surprised to learn during a tutoring session that her school has an insufficient number of books and thus does not allow students to take textbooks home. Inadequate funding for education is not only causing a textbook shortage, it is causing art programs to vanish, teachers to be laid off, schools to close and students to drop out.

Education is not a gift — it is an investment in our nation’s future. But as long as only our suburban and private schools can afford new books, science equipment and educational innovations, our country is at risk of being left in the dust by countries that have fully recognized the role of public and nationally subsidized education in creating a strong economy. We must fight to end the Bush administration tax cuts for the top 2 percent so that a good education is not a privilege but an opportunity for all.

ANGELINA WINBUSH
Bloomfield
The writer is a high school senior.

Help the students

I am a recent graduate of Pittsburgh Public Schools and a student at Community College of Allegheny County, and I am extremely concerned about the potential cuts to education. Our schools need enough support to keep class sizes small and higher education needs to be affordable.

When I was in elementary and high school, there was at least a handful of kids in most classes who would act up and distract other kids in the class. Kids act out when they’re confused or behind. Sometimes I was one of those kids. I didn’t learn everything I was supposed to learn.

I’ve been a student at CCAC for three years, and I have overcome tremendous obstacles to make it this far. I am finally really learning how to study effectively. My vision is to transfer to the University of Pittsburgh and become a child psychologist.

I want to help children where I went wrong, but there are potential federal cuts to education that would compromise my dream of students being well-supported and able to afford higher education. These cuts may cause teacher layoffs, and consequently larger classes, leading to less attention and support for students. Such cuts would also slash certain programs that make college financially feasible for some students.

Instead of cutting education or any of the programs that strengthen our communities, like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other human services, we should allow the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of earners to expire.

LAMAR SHIELDS
Homestead

One thought on “Students and Sequestration

  1. Children’s — and the voices of powerful, engaged young adults, as shown here- are the ones who matter the most. I hope those who say they represent us will listen. Love and respect to you, Lamar and Angelina, for bringing your important voices to a larger audience.

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