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Budget Cuts Leave U.S. Out of Global Progress

Budget Cuts Leave U.S. Out of Global Progress

By Karen Jenkins

The United Nations launched its “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development” in January. The purpose of the “Decade” is to promote viable and just societies for all people. All over the world, educational institutions are being encouraged to move beyond teaching about the environment and implement educational policies and practices that include economic aspects of development, such as alleviating poverty and understanding different cultures in order to celebrate diversity, promote gender equality and indigenous knowledge.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the goals of the Decade have particular significance, given the disparity in wealth between developed and still-developing countries.

The recently announced budget of President George W. Bush is a strong predictor of how the United States will enter into the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The proposed cuts indicate that the United States will be unable and unwilling to take a leading role in educating students to work for viable and sustainable communities at home, much less abroad. This will be another missed opportunity for the United States to take a leading international role in education. The budget cuts, if enacted, will consign more students to low employment opportunities and poverty.

If we look at the priorities set forth by Bush in his budget, especially for education, the success of Decade in the United States looks bleak. First, there is the record $427 billion deficit. Then, the President’s budget omits the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ($80 billion), the cost of making the Bush tax cuts permanent ($1.6 trillion), modifying the Alternative Minimum Tax, which hits hardest on increasing numbers of middle-class taxpayers ($774 billion) and the estimated $4.5 trillion cost to reform Social Security.

The budget is a disaster for state and local governments already struggling with deficits and now facing growing expenditures for Medicaid and education. Bush has proposed that one out of every three programs targeted for cuts or elimination be in education. Funding for the Department of Education would decrease by $529.6 million, or 9 percent. Budget cuts affecting educational programs total $1.3 billion.

Of particular concern for college-bound Americans is the proposed elimination of the Perkins Loan program for students with exceptional financial need. But the cuts in education become even more alarming when we consider programs aimed at improving the lives of children through education, and helping women and the poor improve their career opportunities.

In addition to the Perkins Loan program, other programs marked for elimination include state grants for Drug-Free Schools and Educational Technology, as well as the Even Start Family Literacy program. Adult education programs would be cut by 63 percent with vocational education taking a hard hit. The Upward Bound program, which has benefited many inner-city youth, would be cut by $280 million. A proposed five-year freeze on childcare funding would, by 2009, remove 300,000 low-income children from childcare assistance. As it is, only one in seven eligible children receives childcare subsidies.

As educators, if we are truly serious about helping children overcome poverty and reach their full potential, we need to make sure their parents and caregivers receive adequate resources and support. If single parents are to contribute to sustainable development in the United States, they need an education and skills that give them access to higher-paying jobs.

Community colleges and technical schools, which offer an accessible gateway to higher education for over half of all post-secondary school students, will be especially important to the achievements outlined in United Nations’ Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

In order to assist community colleges, technical schools and all other higher education institutions, the budget should make it clear that, as a nation, we are pursuing an agenda that makes higher education and job training top priorities. There needs to be both the investment of federal resources and the implementation of policies that support educational institutions and their students. Affordable and easy access to higher education helps millions more people contribute to the economic prosperity and security of this nation.

Single parents need affordable childcare and accessible transportation in order to pursue and complete their education. With cutbacks in state support for community colleges and state universities, the rising cost of tuition makes it difficult for single parents to go to school.

But these are not resources that only single parents need. Two-parent households, recent immigrants, displaced workers and former inmates — all need educational support to help them improve their lives through the acquisition of skills that are needed in the workplace.

Will the United States, with its educational institutions that are the envy of the world, provide leadership during the United Nations’ Decade of Education for Sustainable Development? How can the wealthiest nation on Earth convince poorer countries of the importance of committing scarce resources to education when the president is threatening the poor and marginalized of this country with such drastic and short-sighted budget cuts?

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