By Sarah Plummer
For the Daily Telegraph
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee met with Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin Monday to discuss the devastating effects of sequestration — automatic federal spending cutbacks — if the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction fails to identify at least $1.2 trillion in budgetary savings over the next 10 years.
Scheduled to take effect Jan. 2, as stipulated in the Budget Control Act of 2011, billions of dollars are expected to be stripped from education.
According to figures released by the federal Office of Management and Budget, the National Education Association reports nearly $7.9 million in cuts to Title 1 in West Virginia would affect 10,000 low-income students.
Likewise, Head Start would be cut by $4.78 million and Special Education Grants would be cut $6.2 million in West Virginia.
Other federal programs slated to be cut in West Virginia are Rural Education ($278,000), Vocations Rehabilitation State Grants ($2.1 million), 21st Century Learning Centers ($582,000), among others.
“Sens. Manchin and Rockefeller are strong advocates for West Virginia and are both strong advocates for a deal that will protect the average American and protect West Virginians,” said Lee. “We want to show them that they are supported here in West Virginia and we want to ensure Congress makes cuts that are fair instead of sticking it to the everyday American.”
The education association supports making sure the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans are paying their share of taxes, he said.
Lee explained that in many ways, West Virginia is piloting programs like Universal Free Meal Programs across several counties and statewide Universal Pre-K that set us ahead of other states.
These cuts, as slated for Jan. 2 without a passed budget, would affect many of these programs. Cuts to Head Start would drop funding for a total of 650 students and affect 260 jobs statewide.
In all, more than 550 jobs across the state could be lost, according to the National Education Association.
“Large cuts across the board like this would eliminate some of the class offerings students have available to them and will make it harder to assure we have highly qualified teachers in front of all students,” Lee said.
Already more than 600 classrooms in West Virginia do not have a certified teacher, he added.
West Virginia has more than 60 percent of students in poverty.
Lee, who is a special education teacher at Princeton High School, added that cuts to special education often affect course offerings and classroom sizes, which in turn effect student achievement.
“Cuts to education are cuts that don’t heal,” he added.
Sen. Manchin responded to his meeting with the Education Association.
“I had a very productive conversation with our educators and other concerned groups about how we best protect our shared priorities — like our children, our seniors and our veterans — and I assured them that I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure we don’t hurt our schools. I want to see the fiscal cliff and sequestration prevented as much as anyone, and the best way to do that is with a big fix.”
In a recent column, Rockefeller laid out his thoughts on addressing the fiscal cliff.
“We got into this situation because of the deep disagreement about whether it makes good sense to reduce our deficit by asking the very wealthy to pay a little more or by putting the full burden onto middle class and struggling families and small businesses,” he said. “I have long championed the idea that those at the very top should be asked to do at least their fair share.”
He said he has been encouraged to hear that both Democrats and Republicans agree that a compromise is possible and, “in the coming weeks I believe we will resolve big questions about fiscal policies that have serious implications here in West Virginia and nationally.”