A Budget Compromise On Kids

Jeff Bryant

Everyone at all familiar with the Judgment of Solomon has to be aghast as political leaders reverse that Biblical wisdom and proceed to “split the difference” over who gets whose way on matters affecting children.

Instead of putting the interests of children first, there’s a prevailing wisdom among political centrists inside the Beltway that “compromising” with radical conservatives is the only serious approach to governance and policy-making. So when “hard fought” compromises are reached in the back corridors of the nation’s capital, centrists hold self-congratulatory press conferences, but the lives of children are cleaved in two. We see this in deals made over sequestration, in the new budget being proposed by the Obama administration, and regarding school security measures.

The Centrist Rejection Of Solomon’s Wisdom

Recall that when King Solomon was confronted by two interested parties vying over the well-being of a child, he threatened to serve both parties involved by hacking the kid in two.

This caused one party to stubbornly press its case and say, “Go ahead,” while the other party abandoned its own personal interests for what was in the best interest of the child in the long term. Solomon – understanding the long-term best interests of the child, and not the needs of the vying parties, was central to the matter – was able to rule justly and correctly. That’s called wisdom.

But in today’s political climate, the “centrist Solomons” in charge begin with the belief that compromise must rule the day and let the sword fly. This is called realistic.

Solomon Says: “Sequestration”

If you question at all how political centrism has damaged the lives of children, consider the recently enacted financial sequester. This sterling example of bipartisan legislation is now rolling out its appalling effects on the most vulnerable children.

As Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel report at Huffington Post, among the first and most affected by sequestration are “hundreds of lower-income parents forced to game out major life adjustments to accommodate cuts to Head Start” – the federal preschool program delivering educational, health and nutritional services to disadvantaged young children age 3 to 5.

“Across the country,” they report, “drastic measures to meet the 5-percent cut, as mandated under the sequester,” are resulting in reduced access to programs, early closures, and curtailed services. “In Wisconsin, 700 families could end up losing Head Start access. In Cincinnati, nearly 200 children are at risk. In Oklahoma City, that number is 100.”

A report by the National Education Association found two Head Start programs in Indiana that “removed three dozen students by random drawing in order to offset the coming budget slashing.”

Beyond the negative impact to Head Start, the sequester also harms children attending schools in rural and military and Native American communities.

According to a blog post in Education Week, provisions of the sequester are forcing “rural communities nationwide must repay $17.9 million” in funds used primarily for education services.

CBS News recently told about the sequester’s effects on Impact Aid that provides “$1.2 billion annually to 1,400 school districts nationwide near military bases and Indian reservations.”

The sequester cuts $60 million of that funding. The report quoted a school administrator whose district is affected by the cuts, “You should have excellent schools for our military that has done so much for us, and to cut them is just callous.”

A Budget Compromise On Kids

In striving for a Grand Bargain in his new budget, President Obama also mostly abandons the interests of children for the sake of a compromised deal.

In what The Washington Post describes as a “break with the president’s tradition of providing a sweeping vision of his ideal spending priorities, untethered from political realities,” the budget deal, according to a Bloomberg report, doesn’t include any stimulus spending related to the interests of children.

Although, according to Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog, money in the budget is allocated to a new effort to expand access to pre-K education, those funds are provided by a back door method – “raising federal taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products” – rather than a straightforward new revenue stream investing in the nation’s children.

Like the proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security that are built into the president’s budget, according to The New York Times, the Obama administration’s shortcoming on child-centered spending is due to “his willingness to compromise with Republicans.”

If budgets are supposed to reflect values, then what we are seeing again is the interests of Beltway bipartisanship winning out instead of the interests of children.

Where Spending Continues Unabated

While centrist Solomons search for the place where they’ll cut the kids, at least one party to the deal is continuing to pursue its own self-interests unabated.

While cuts roll out of D.C., conservative Republicans across the country are demanding that state and local lawmakers go on a spending spree on arming schools with more guards, guns, and security paraphernalia.

Accompanying the National Rifle Association’s push to get more guns in schools, lawmakers in 36 states have introduced legislation to put more guns in schools, according to a report by the Sunlight Foundation.

“The vast majority of these bills would make it easier for school personnel, guards, and volunteers to carry guns on campus.”

The report notes that the NRA and its backers have, “played tough on this issue,” taking every opportunity – even after the horrendous killing of school children in Newtown, Conn. – to press its case, not compromise.

The negative effects on children of ratcheting up these security measures on schools are multifaceted. Studies conducted where there already is widespread presence of armed guards and strict security in schools have generally found that these measures tend to lead to more students being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

Writing at The Huffington Post, the president of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, recently wrote

There is no evidence that armed guards or police officers in schools make children safer. An armed guard at Columbine High School in 1999 and a full campus police force at Virginia Tech in 2007 were unable to stop the massacres that occurred at both schools. A 2010 review of existing research found no evidence that the use of police to handle school disorders reduces the occurrence of problem behavior in schools but there is evidence that over-policing leads to a new set of problems. (emphasis original)

Instead of arming schools, Edelman recommends “better ways for providing an effective model school safety plan, that an include an emphasis on relationship building . . . consistent reinforcement of positive norms . . . and individualized approaches to student discipline and intervention that seek to address root causes of misbehavior rather than to punish indiscriminately.”

Effort to put more weaponry in schools are not only damaging to children, they are expensive.

As the recent post at the blog for the National School Board Association noted, “Public schools spend billions each year on school resource officers, according to a report on NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report. One officer could cost between $50,000 and $80,000 per year, depending on the district.”

A recent report in the local newspaper in Charlotte, N.C. found that that the school district was struggling to come up with “an added $800,000 required by a change in the city formula for paying school resource officers.”

So while political leaders in D.C. make the federal deficit the defining interest of the nation, elsewhere, conservatives are promoting huge new expenditures for their constituents, and the interests of children get completely lost in the deal-making.

That any Democratic administration would find the interests of the National Rifle Association as a place to compromise on the well-being of children is appalling.

“Splitting The Baby” Not An Option

The way that the Wisdom of Solomon has been interpreted by America’s leaders today resembles the cruder version, reflected, according in the Wikipedia article cited above, in the legal profession, where attorneys propose a simple compromise they call “splitting the baby.”

But that’s not how Solomon’s judgement became “an example of profound wisdom” and not what we need for the well-being of our youngest citizens.

This article originally appeared on the Education Opportunity Network, a project of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn. Visit the home page to subscribe to a weekly email of education news and views.

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