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Tarsi Dunlop's picture
Tarsi Dunlop is Program and Operations Manager for Learning First Alliance. During her three years supporting public education and associations at the Alliance, she gained a deep appreciation for the...
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Advocating for Children

As a constituency, children receive little attention in federal budget discussions. Today in Washington, and indeed leading up to the implementation of the Bipartisan Budget Control Act (BCA) (aka sequestration) next year, federal expenditures will be on the tip of everyones tongue.

According to the Kids Share 2012 report, just released by the Urban Institute, federal spending on children fell by $2 billion in 2011, the first decline of its kind in 30 years. Of even greater concern, spending is projected to fall again in 2012 as American Recovery and Reinvestment (AARA) money runs out. According the report, CBO Baseline projections suggest that federal outlays on children will fall 6 percent in 2012 and an additional 2 percent in 2013. This takes the BCA into account. Public education emerges as the biggest loser as the AARA expenditures dwindle, losing $13 billion, primarily in the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Special Education, and Title I/Education for the Disadvantaged. In total, federal spending for public education is projected to decline from $64 billion in 2011 to $37 billion by 2022, or $47 billion without BCA restrictions. Finally, total federal outlays will increase by $965 billion dollars by 2022 and childrens outlays will increase by only about $6 billion during that time. This trend provokes disturbing questions about our national priorities and willingness to invest in our future citizens, leaders and workers.

But federal budget experts and childrens advocates on the Urban Institutes panel spoke to one opportunity in this bleak conversation about the fiscal cliff: The opportunity to discuss longer-term national policies and to make decisions about where we want to invest and how to allocate limited resources. We hope cooler heads prevail when it comes to determining the policy details of such cuts, but we have yet to win the bigger fight for our childrens future. Because children benefit from numerous federal programs, indeed ten programs and tax provisions account for three-quarters of the $445 billion in expenditures on children, there is a competition amongst stakeholders for the money. What are the top one or two priorities for our children? It is disgraceful that were at a juncture where we ask this question, that weve reached a point where policy-makers are choosing between adequate health care funding and educational support. More than one factor brought us to this state of affairs, but perhaps it is in part because children as a collective have few champions. In the end, it isnt difficult to see how a pro-child narrative gets diluted by competing advocates.

The 10 million professional educators and community leaders represented by the 16 member associations in the Learning First Alliance are advocates for a robust public education system for all children. Prenatal groups push to ensure that children are born healthy. Representatives of children with disabilities are expected to advocate for resources to ensure those children receive the additional care in education, healthcare and other sectors that they may require to succeed. However, is there a bigger picture narrative for childrens well-being?

As an education advocate, I would be remiss if I did not point out that education officials are making difficult decisions in their district and school budgets in an effort to continue educating students on even more limited resources. It is not just cuts at the federal level states and local communities contribute the bulkof money to public schools. But with the rising cost of Medicaid putting a significant strain on state resources and the fact that most governors must balance their budgets combined with falling property values, education seems destined to suffer in many states.

Education is still a pathway out of poverty, vital to our economic well-being and a cornerstone of a healthy vibrant democracy. But we dont need just more money for our public school system; we need a greater investment in children overall. And such investment would benefit the education community. We know that children who suffer from higher levels of poverty are more likely struggle to achieve in school. If youre hungry or homeless, your ability to focus and learn in school will diminish. Therein one can make an argument for programs that seek to alleviate these external factors that affect a childs ability to learn.

Children are the most vulnerable segment of our population, yet providing a strong foundation for their eventual success reveals difficult questions among advocacy groups. Is there a message that multiple stakeholders, including public education, can coalesce around? The numbers tell us that as a country, we are failing to adequately invest in children. Children must have health, home and yes, education to ensure success in life; as a community that cares about kids, we should continue to break down walls and move outside our silos on behalf of our nations future.


This content was originally published by Tarsi Dunlop onLearning First Alliance's blogand is posted here with permission.