One Maine teacher’s view: Congress should vote for kids, not cuts

By Michael Thurston, Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 09, 2012, at 11:31 a.m.

We all know the looming fiscal cliff is going to affect most Mainers in the pocketbook unless our leaders find a solution.

Estimations are that without agreement in the next few days, average individual taxpayers will pay $2,000 more to the Internal Revenue Service. Automatic cuts to defense, Social Security, Medicare and other programs will begin to take place. Maine’s schools are especially vulnerable.

Maine’s congressional leaders must stand firm that cuts to education are unacceptable, and a solution to the fiscal cliff must be negotiated immediately.

If allowed to go forward with the automatic cuts, how will Maine’s students fare? Nearly all federal education spending will be cut by 8.2 percent starting Jan. 2, 2013, unless Congress and President Barack Obama can agree to a deal to avert across the board cuts.

The impact of those proposed cuts is huge.

Maine would lose $4.1 billion in education funding, which would directly impact local school districts and local taxpayers in the 2013-14 school year. The cuts will hit districts with large numbers of low-income students or those with disabilities especially hard.

The guillotine expected to fall will chop off entire programs and cost jobs.

Portland would lose $5.3 million, and Bangor would lose almost $2.5 million, according to an analysis done by the Kennebec Journal, based on an across-the-board 8.2 percent cut to discretionary funding in the sequestration package. Auburn would lose $2.6 million; Lewiston, $4 million; Waterville, $1.5 million; and Winslow, $700,000.

The big school districts lose more because of their sheer size, but smaller ones would feel the pain, as well. A half-million dollar loss in a smaller community could mean entire scholastic programs like science would be eliminated because of teacher layoffs. This is not the answer for our children.

The effects on students at all levels would be devastating as programs such as Head Start, Title 1, special education programs and the future of Pell Grants would be impacted.

How can the question of whether to tax the wealthiest 2 percent be the deciding factor in funding education? We are pitting the top income-earners against our future — our students.

Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have said they would support the tax-rate increase on the wealthy. Snowe has said Congress should leave the fight about taxes and spending until later.

Our students cannot wait for a battle to ensue. We must be assured that funding for education is guaranteed and protects our students’ futures.

Our children’s education should not be used as a bargaining chip for those in Washington.

Maine’s future depends on our schools, and our schools are dependent on those in Congress who will make the right choice in funding education and supporting our kids.

We call upon Collins and Snowe to stand up for children and vote for kids, not cuts.

Michael Thurston is a social studies teacher at Winslow High School.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/12/09/opinion/one-maine-teachers-view-congress-should-vote-for-kids-not-cuts/ printed on July 13, 2014