What Does Trump's Budget Say About Our Values as a Country?
Post 2 in the Winter is Coming: Trump's Proposed Education Budget Series
This is a guest post from Cathy Whitehead, the 2016 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Cathy is a 3rd grade teacher at West Chester Elementary School. Cathy is a veteran educator, a teacher leader, and a fearless advocate for education. Connect with her at @.
I walked by a mother and her young daughter this morning as they were crouched by the curb in a parking lot in a particularly dreary part of town. Two heads were bent over a dandelion. As with all teachers of small children, the little one caught my eye; hair neatly braided into several rows all tied with ribbon, small skirt bouncing dangerously close to a puddle. When I drew closer, I realized that they were examining a fuzzy caterpillar that was clinging onto the spindly stem of a weed. Trying to make sense of the world around her, she looked at her mother and asked rapid fire questions as only our youngest learners do: "What does it do, mama? What does it say?"
As a human being, so much of what is happening around us astonishes me. As someone whose career has been dedicated to helping young children learn to read, the assault on education, and literacy in particular, as laid out in President Trump's proposed budget terrifies me. Trying to make sense of it, I thought about the little girl's questions.
First, what does it do?
It cuts funding to education precipitously. Typically, only 2% of the federal budget goes to education. Any additional cuts to such a small investment are felt, drastically, and by those who can least afford it: our children of color, those who live in poverty, and those in urban and rural districts. It reduces appropriations for preschoolers, students in elementary school, teacher development, schools, and libraries. Education doesn't happen in a vacuum, and the $193 billion cut in food stamps and $800 billion slash to children's healthcare programs will affect how well kids learn to read, too. This budget also completely eliminates comprehensive literacy development grants to the tune of $189.6 million and $26.9 million worth of programs for innovative approaches to literacy. It's the financial equivalent of burning children's books.
Just as importantly, what does it say?
Budgets are moral documents that say a lot about the values of the people who create them. And this one says that education is useless and literacy doesn't matter. That our young ones don't need to learn to read well, that they don't need to be surrounded by well-stocked libraries, taught by knowledgeable teachers, or guided by trained librarians. That those who already have less matter still less. That this government places no value on raising generations of joyful, thoughtful readers who go on to become educated, empathetic, and knowledgeable participants in a democratic society.
Our children will suffer under this education budget, that much is clear. What seems to be less clear to many is that we will all suffer. Human beings have discovered that education benefits our social order; the health of a democracy is inextricably tied to the education of its populace. The basis of all education is literacy, and it begins early.
So. What will you do? And what will you say?
Photo courtesy of Ellie Enking and Seattle Parks Preschool Program.