NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The sky falls at midnight. The sequester will take effect.
The parade of impossible-to-accept budget cuts continues. Those who are opposed to cuts in spending continue to highlight all the awful things that will happen. The latest list comes from the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. The big union issued a news release showing some of the impacts in Wisconsin. It says:
Wisconsin’s $105.5-million Head Start grant will be cut by $8.2-million. They claim 276 Head Start jobs will be lost; 1,324 fewer students will be served.
Wisconsin’s $11.7-million in federal funding for emergency preparedness will be cut by $856,000, resulting in “reduced ability to respond to biological, radiological, chemical, and natural emergencies”.
Wisconsin’s $105.1-million in federal energy assistance will be cut by $9.5-million, leading. to “Less funding to provide home heating and cooling assistance to low-income individuals and families”.
Wisconsin’s $39.8-million in Improving Teacher Quality grants will be cut by $2.8-million. The impact: “3,034 fewer teachers, serving 45,298 students, receive professional development“.
The AFL-CIO put out this news release with a purpose. They want to illustrate the worst-of-the-worst; the cuts that the public will find most unacceptable. And the worst they’ve come up with isn’t scary at all. In fact, their news release accomplished the opposite. We should be asking why these spending cuts, in this time of austerity, haven’t taken place already. Let’s review them one by one:
Head start – The cut here is 7%. Does anyone think school districts will actually kick kids out of the program? No. Districts would have the option of allowing Head Start teachers to handle more children, or districts could make their own budget choices and decide if they want to make up the lost federal funding on their own. Some perspective here is important. Wisconsin’s state aid to school districts is about $28-billion. (That doesn’t include school property taxes – where most districts get most of their money.) The lost federal funding comes to about 7-one-thousanth-of-a-percent (1/7,000%). Does that sound like a the-sky-is-falling cut?
Emergency Preparedness – Again, a cut of about 7%. Emergency preparedness money is mostly used for equipment or training; if there was an actual emergency FEMA funding would be handled by a special resolution by Congress. Is it reasonable to say that one training session will be delayed, or that local emergency responders will have to make-due with the equipment that’s already on-hand? What we’re talking about here are lost opportunity costs.
Energy Assistance – A cut of about 9%. Currently families can have incomes above the poverty line and still qualify for heating assistance. We could make up for the cut by limiting the program to poverty families only, or ask those who already get assistance to make up the difference. (“We were giving you $200 a month to help pay for your heating bill. This year we’re giving you $182, and we need you to kick in the extra 18-bucks.”) Keep in mind, spending on heating assistance varies widely based on whether we have a cold or a mild winter. Two years ago, Wisconsin gave out additional funding to some families because there was left-over heating money.
Improving Teacher Quality Grants – The Feds offer this money so teachers can get advanced degrees (which is how the teachers move up on the salary scale). Suppose the grants became competitive; only the best teachers in a district qualify for money for advanced training. That would achieve the goal of higher quality teaching. The money that’s available – about 6% less than this year – would go to the most promising teachers who’d give us the best returns in the classroom.
These cuts are coming. They are nothing to fear. In truth, more cuts are needed.