Executive Perspective

Missing Love in the Proper Places
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, September 2017

THIS PAST JULY at AASA’s Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C., AASA launched the “I Love Public Education” campaign. You would take for granted that an organization whose mission is to advocate for the highest quality public education for all students would, as a matter of fact, love public education. But in the current policy environment, nothing can be taken for granted.

We must affirm that we love public education because, as I said in my statement when the federal FY ’18 budget was released, “we are left to wonder not only if the administration supports our nation’s public schools, but also why the budget is so deliberate to make deep, damaging cuts.” That is not showing me the love.

Abandoning Parity
As the appropriations process unfolds in Congress, we are confident that many of the members, from both sides of the aisle, also will express their love for public education and be less inclined to make the draconian cuts in the president’s budget. When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared before the Senate appropriations subcommittee overseeing education funding, Republican chair Sen. Roy Blunt proclaimed, “This is a difficult budget request to defend. It’s likely that the kinds of cuts proposed in this budget will not occur.”

We are encouraged by the senator’s remarks, but we remain concerned that our sigh of relief may be premature if we become complacent and willingly settle for smaller cuts. As Noelle Ellerson Ng, AASA’s public policy director, pointed out in her analysis of the FY ’18 budget proposal, “We saw, unfortunately, that Congress used the extreme FY ’17 budget proposals from the administration to normalize unacceptable behavior in their final FY ’17 funding package. When it comes to FY ’18, will Congress treat this flawed proposal as dead on arrival? Will they start from a baseline more reflective of the priorities and needs of the constituents they represent? Will they use the extreme nature of the president’s proposal to normalize deep cuts of their own? Will they advance a less bad proposal? Just because it is ‘less bad’ doesn’t make it good.”

We are deeply concerned over the attempt to do away with the parity that has existed between defense and non-defense discretionary funding. The president’s proposal would violate that parity by significantly increasing defense funding at the expense of non-defense discretionary funding. We would rather see the spending caps raised equally for both programs.

Working closely with the Children’s Defense Fund, AASA has helped to identify thousands of children in our schools who were not aware of their eligibility to receive health care under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Our organizations jointly developed the “Insure All Children” interactive toolkit for school-based child health outreach and enrollment. Thanks to Medicaid and CHIP, the number of uninsured children is at a historic low.

The proposed cuts to Medicaid threaten to reverse this trend and further undermine the capacity of districts to meet the educational needs of students with disabilities and students in poverty. The American Health Care Act attempts to restructure Medicaid to a per-capita system, shifting the bulk of coverage to the states and forcing them and localities to make up the difference in federal funding.

Dollars Diverted
After years of advocating for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, we were elated by the passage of ESSA, but the proposed budget threatens the successful implementation of the new law. Funding to support teacher professional development and classroom size reduction would be eliminated as would funding to support programs addressing the social emotional factors that would provide the well-rounded education that enables children to come to school ready to learn.

The proposed budget cuts $26.7 billion from education. The intent of federal funding for education is an attempt at leveling the playing field in recognition of how we fund education in this country. With the property tax being the primary source of funding for the majority of school districts, and with the growing income disparity we are witnessing, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. So rather than increase federal funding to deal with that growing disparity, we are subject to a historic cut in funding for the very children who need it the most, our special education and low-income students.

Add to that the focus on diverting public dollars to allow children to attend private schools that can be selective in who they admit and retain and that will not be held accountable to the same requirements as public schools and you have to wonder, where is the love for public schools?

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org. Twitter: @AASADan