Bushwhacked By Budget Cuts

budget cutsThe United States is one of the richest and most powerful nations of all time. We have the ability to provide health care and education to all our citizens, but our government is not prioritizing funding for these needs. Instead, the priority is more military spending on what is already the largest military force in the world. In light of the recent devastating budget cuts to schools and universities across the country, can we really say we all enjoy equal access to education, enabling us to lead the lives that we want? Is a society really secure that values an oversized military with weapons of mass-destruction, a nuclear arsenal, and ballistic missiles dwarfing any of our potential enemies over the quality of education and health care?

Every year the President has to propose a budget for the spending of discretionary funds that Congress must approve. The proposed federal budget from President Bush for 2003 asked for an unprecedented amount of our tax dollars to be directed to defense and the Pentagon, while millions are being cut from state and social service programs. Military spending currently takes 50 percent of our budget while education takes only 9 percent. Proposed budget cuts will damage food stamps, veterans’ benefits, childcare, school lunch programs, and other important services.
At the same time, Bush proposed an additional $75 billion to finance the war in Iraq. This amount could have paid the salaries of 1.5 million elementary school teachers. And while Bush proposed $75 billion, it is more likely that the total cost of the war will be more like $100 billion, according to The National Priorities Project. That is three times the amount the federal government spends on education K-12.

More Info about the 2003 Budget:

National Priorities Project www.nationalpriorities.org

National Education Association report www.nea.org/lac

True Majority www.truemajority.com/index.asp?action=2495&ms=reck3.

Women's Action for New Directions fact sheet on FY 2003 budget: www.wand.org

Better Budget Resolution: A resolution passed in Vermont in 1997 by Senator Jean Ankeney that states a firm commitment to responsible re-prioritizing of federal funds. www.wand.org

How does the budget affect you?
If you are a high school student, the funding statewide for high schools has been cut $6,771 million. Compare this to the $15.7 billion we will spend on nuclear weapons. While it is difficult to imagine how large this amount really is, the consequences will be clearly tangible: decaying buildings, underpaid teachers, old textbooks and the destruction of special education and school lunch programs.

Approximately forty education programs -- including dropout prevention, school counselors, and rural education -- will be eliminated. The National Education Association cites that public school construction projects need $268 billion to complete their projects, yet Bush's new budget proposes that these funds be eliminated. Are schools in your district deteriorating or overcrowded? Is it difficult to find the money to build or repair your schools? These problems will persist if we do not change the spending priorities of our government.

If you enrolled in higher education, the cut is $2,442 million. The result is more confusion in the bureaucracy of universities, higher tuitions, cuts in departments and spending overall.

How budget cuts affect different states

In Portland, Oregon, teachers have agreed to work two weeks without pay. Can you imagine if the government asked soldiers to fly out to combat without pay or adequate maps? Also a Portland program known as New Avenues for Youth, which provides alternatives to jails for juvenile offenders, is in danger of being eliminated due to the $250 million in proposed cuts to juvenile justice programs in President Bush's budget for next year. There is also a $400 million cut in after-school programs for children at risk of falling into delinquency. This would mean ending after-school programs for 500,000 students, according to Department of Education figures. This is particularly troubling, as juvenile crime rates are on the rise and after-school programs have been demonstrated to make a difference in the direction of some youths' lives. The combination of these two cuts could lead to a devastating shift in the lives of many youths.

In California, $601 million be cut from higher education and $888 million from education K-12. These cuts can be compared with the $7.6 billion California taxpayers will pay for the war, which could instead provide for 130,460 public elementary school teachers or healthcare for more than 4 million uninsured children. California will also pay $2 billion in nuclear weapons in 2004, which could have paid for 242,419 spots for children in Head Start preschool programs. Do you think these are wise choices in spending?

Massachusetts has lost $75 million for higher education. Republican governor Mitt Romney has proposed to consolidate two community colleges in western Massachusetts -- one is urban, Holyoke Community College, and the other rural, Greenfield Community College. The two colleges are 40 miles apart and there is no public transportation provided. Paul Revera, executive vice-president of Holyoke Community College, explained that their school population is made up of mostly "working people, single parents and people without cars." Revera suggested that the complex consolidation Romney called for would only complicate matters further for these struggling students.

In addition, the University of Massachusetts Amhert has had to cut programs such as student safety patrols, childcare, and the arts. Students at this state-run university can expect a 15 percent increase in in-state tuition -- for many, this means a public university education has become unaffordable.

Even if schools in your state have not suffered yet, the budget cuts will inevitably affect the future workforce of the entire country. Education is empowerment; if it is only offered to the few then we can expect the problems associated with the cycle of poverty and crime that affects us all to only get worse.

If we are not spending money on education, what are we spending it on? A $48 billion increase in military spending, and a proposed $75 billion or more for the war in Iraq.

In his proposed $2.13 trillion fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget, President Bush is requesting $396.1 billion in defense spending. This is a $48 billion increase from FY 2002, and represents the largest defense increase in two decades, returning the U.S. to peak Cold War military spending levels. The figures they are asking for do not take into account the snowballing costs of the war in Iraq, which have been estimated to cost over $100 billion dollars, according to the National Priorities Project.

How much is 48 billion?

According to Women’s Action for New Directions the $48 billion proposed military spending increase is by itself more than three times the combined defense budgets of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Sudan and Syria -- those nations traditionally regarded as "rogue nations" or states of concern.

Clearly, the United States dwarfs the rest of the world in military spending: The proposed increase amount is larger than the entire defense budget of every other country, except Russia ($60 billion). For 2003, military spending comprises 53% of all discretionary spending ($755 billion). More money will be spent on the military next year than on all discretionary social programs combined.

Military spending currently takes 50 percent of our budget while education takes only 9 percent.

When we study these figures we can also think of what we could be doing with this money instead. For example the $15.7 billion for nuclear weapons in FY2003 could instead provide salaries for nearly 300,000 new elementary school teachers. The $396.1 billion proposed military budget could instead provide almost 16 million children with health care. These "trade-offs," as the National Priorities Project calls them, harm everyone, but we do have the power to influence our representatives to incite changes in spending priorities.

We must continue to ask our representatives why our government can not provide an adequate education and a safe place to attend school for all its citizens, yet at the same time it can provide billions for a war that will inevitably harm innocent civilians overseas?

We cannot place the blame solely on the local officials who are struggling with painful cuts to their budgets. We have to turn to the federal level, to the war-hungry President and the Republican majority in Congress and Senate. We have to raise our voices, and let our representatives know we want books not bombs!

Most citizens want safe neighborhoods, and ensuring quality public education will help end the cycle of poverty that leads to crime. In his State of the Union address, Mr. Bush said he would "apply the compassion of America to the deepest problems of America" by introducing a $150-million-a-year program to provide mentors for children with parents in prison and disadvantaged middle school students. He, of course, failed to mention the thousands of problems that are arising as a direct result of budget cuts to these and other government-run social and education programs. Clearly it's going to take more than just lip-service to solve America's internal problems, and you can make a difference. So, call your representatives in Congress, inform them and educate others on the need to shift our nation’s priorities.

Sarah Johnston-Gardner is a junior government major at Smith College in Northampton, MA.


The National Priorities Project. www.nationalpriorities.org
Reg Weaver, President The National Education Association. "The Zero-Percent Solution?" -- January 26, 2003
Butterfield, Fox. Cuts Imperial Youth Program in Oregon. New York Times. 3/9/03
The National Education Association report, www.nea.org/lac
Women’s Action for New Directions fact sheet on FY 2003 budget www.wand.org


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