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Calvin Ball: Sequestration crippling for education

Education is the most democratizing force that can empower every generation across our great nation. In a time when we are slipping behind the rest of the world in college completion and we see the ripple effects that educational attainment can have on jobs and our economy, health and happiness, draconian cuts would be devastating. Maryland has the distinction of having a top-rated educational system, and Howard County is often at the top of that system.

Before March 1, most Americans may not have known what sequestration meant or the impact it would have on our future. However, after the close call of the fiscal cliff and now that March is coming to a close with cuts set to become a reality, we are forced to deal with the social, economic and educational impacts of the sequester.

The path to prosperity and a successful economy and society rests on the engine of ingenuity coupled with the drive and passion for education. After all, we grow stronger as a nation as we develop a well-informed citizenry, which cannot be made possible without investments in the institutions that lay the framework molding the minds of our future.

With this sequester, Maryland will feel budget cuts of at least $117 million of the massive $1.2 trillion in broad-based federal spending reductions. This could have a potentially devastating trickle-down effect on our educational system. Local governments that receive pass-through grants from the federal grants will feel the squeeze, and it will be our children who will suffer at the hands of Congress. Title I education grants, special education grants, after-school learning centers and Head Start are just a few programs that will be impacted.

More tangible, here are some things that are likely to occur now that sequestration is moving forward. In Maryland, we will lose approximately $14.4 million in funding for primary and secondary education, likely 30 fewer schools will receive funding, 200 teacher and aide jobs may be at risk and likely almost 12,000 fewer students are to be served. For those who assist students with special needs, Maryland may lose $9.7 million in funding for 120 teachers, aides and staff.

In Howard County, the library system’s Project Literacy, our adult basic education initiative, which receives fairly substantial federal grant funding, will probably see drastic cuts. The Howard County Public School System has already begun preparing itself for the worst. HCPSS estimates between $12 million and $15 million of grants may be affected and have already held back 10 percent of the fiscal 2013 grants and will continue to do the same in fiscal 2014.

As we know, affordability of higher education is a vital component to the success of a student. Under sequestration, we can anticipate approximately $148 million of federal student aid to be cut for the 2013-2014 academic year. This translates to approximately 770 students no longer having access to financial aid and for those that rely on work study, 440 fewer students will no longer being able to supplement their income with this opportunity. In addition, Howard Community College reports that it will likely see cuts to the Student Support Services Grant and the Perkins Grant, furthering the economic hardship our students will incur to achieve the American dream.

We are all well aware the importance that early childhood development plays in the setting a child up for success in life. Under sequestration in Maryland, Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for almost 800 children, reducing the opportunity for this crucial education. This gap grows substantially when looking at the national impact. More than 70,000 children will have reduced access and more than 14,000 teachers, teacher assistants and other staff of community and faith-based organizations, small businesses, local governments and school systems would see layoffs.

For single parents relying on child care so they can make ends meet while educating their children, up to 400 disadvantaged and vulnerable children could lose access to this service. Working parents may find it hard to hold a job, falling victim to other circumstances, resulting in homelessness.

We must protect the fundamental investments we make in life and join together to safeguard our future generations so that they may receive the same opportunities we were once afforded.

As you can see, sequestration can and will have a devastating impact on our education system. We must look to our representatives in Washington to collaborate and compromise so that we ensure our children have access to the fundamental principles that will ensure their future and our future in the global market is as bright as possible.

Calvin Ball is a member of the Howard County Council and on the faculty of Morgan State University’s School of Education and Urban Studies.