WASHINGTON – With Americans bracing for a possible government shutdown over Republican opposition to Obamacare, a Washington-based education coalition group found a novel theme Wednesday to dramatize the effects of the federal budget sequestration.
At a Capitol Hill briefing, The Committee for Education Funding (CEF), a coalition of 111 national education associations and institutions, took the opportunity to hold a “Sequestration Bake Sale.” During the briefing, which was held in a U.S. Senate hearing room, officials from organizations representing federal programs, such as Head Start and TRIO Student Support Services, urged attendees to help end the federal budget sequester. The audience was made up largely of Senate staffers.
Since March, nearly all federally-funded education programs have been subject to a 5-percent automatic across-the-board cut as part of a Fiscal Year 2013 $85 billion spending reduction. Among higher-education-focused programs, that has meant cuts of $57 million for TRIO and GEAR-UP and $86 million for career, technical and adult education programs, according to CEF. Other major federally-supported education programs that have taken big hits include Head Start and Title I.
“Enough is enough,” CEF executive director Joel Packer told Diverse. “Since April 2011, we’ve seen $3 billion in cuts to federally-supported education programs.”
Following the briefing, Packer, CEF staffers and supporters visited individual Senate offices and distributed small plastic bags filled with chocolate Oreo cookie crumbs. Packer said the idea behind the cookie crumb distribution is to say, “No more budget crumbs for students and education.”
Kimberly Jones, CEF vice president and board member, said the Sequestration Bake Sale briefing was “our way of getting attention in a more nontraditional way” for the federally-supported education programs that have been hit by sequestration, or automatic budget cuts, that took effect earlier this year.
“What do schools across America do when they’re trying to raise money? They have a bake sale,” Jones told Diverse. “It’s a tongue-in-cheek way of drawing attention.”
She continued, “In all the discussions about sequestration, you’re hearing a lot of talk about entitlement programs; you’re hearing a lot of discussion about defense; and you’re hearing a lot of discussion about tax reform. You’re hearing virtually no discussion of non-defense discretionary programs like education.”
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., blamed Republican Party opposition to Obamacare as a major factor in the ongoing stalemate over federal budget policy. Instead of a focus of investing in education, Kaine said the Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, has prevented Congress from currently pursuing productive policies. “That’s what’s driven a lot of the sequester politics,” he said of ACA opposition.