Some educators worried by would-be VP Ryan’s budget proposal

Stakeholders worry that Ryan’s spending cuts will impact much-needed education assistance programs.

Education stakeholders have been buzzing with questions and speculation after Mitt Romney announced his selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential pick.

Ryan, a seven-term congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee, wants to slice away at Medicare, food stamps, and virtually all domestic programs–including education–with military a notable exception.

His budget plan, Path to Prosperity, was adopted by the Republican-controlled House and drew much reaction in March.

“Ryan’s budget plan slaps students with harmful cuts to the Pell Grants program while proposing a windfall for corporate tax dodgers, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the oil industry,” said Rich Williams, higher-education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, in March.

“The proposal recommends slashing Pell Grants, which help more than 9 million students pay for college at a time of rising college costs, tight family finances, and a job market that increasingly requires post-secondary education.”

Experts have pointed to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, federal assistance for higher education, and early childhood education initiatives as just some of the programs that may see cuts or deep reform.

The maximum Pell grant for low-income college students, currently at $5,550 for the 2012-2013 school year, will increase to $5,635 in the 2013-2014 school year. However, under Ryan’s budget, Pell grants would be held to $5,550.

Ryan’s budget text notes that the current Pell grant system is “unsustainable” and that “federal intervention in higher education should increasingly be focused not solely on financial aid, but on policies that maximize innovation and ensure a robust menu of institutional options from which students and their families are able to choose.”

The federal Head Start program, which aims to help low-income students, could experience cuts in funding and reach. According to National Education Association estimates, Ryan’s proposed budget would eliminate spots for more than 191,000 children.
Ryan would enact major reforms to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and eliminate programs that are duplicative or too similar.

His education stance also includes more local control.

“The current structure for K–12 programs at the Department of Education is fragmented and ineffective,” Ryan says on his website. “Rather than relying on the federal government to ensure that students are given the capability to fulfill their potential, education ought to be governed by state and local boards more ably qualified to determine student need.”

Ryan supports the A-PLUS Act, which lets states opt out of No Child Left Behind mandates as long as they can prove an increase in academic achievement and provide performance data.

Education leaders instantly reacted to Ryan’s voting record and budget proposal.

“Ryan’s position on fundamental education issues like funding for early childhood education and efforts to keep class sizes small don’t speak to ensuring that every child in this country gets a quality education, it continues Romney’s misguided and out of touch mentality that class size doesn’t matter and children should get as much education as they can ‘afford,'” said National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel in a statement. “The three million members of NEA know you can’t put Americans back to work by cutting jobs, educate our kids by laying off teachers, or level the playing field for small businesses by rigging it in favor of big corporations.

“These are the positions and policies of Governor Romney. And so NEA members know enough to know that a Romney-Ryan administration is bad for our students, families, and the wrong direction for America,” he said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that Ryan “would reduce, not expand, real opportunities for all students to have access to high-quality public education…Romney’s selection of Rep. Ryan is a clear signal that the Republican ticket doesn’t understand the needs and challenges Americans are facing right now.”

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