By Ben Velderman

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – With the elections finally over, America’s political leaders have resumed their search for a bipartisan plan to replace a series of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts and tax hikes that are set to kick in early next year.

Many observers believe those scheduled budget cuts and tax increases would send the country over “the fiscal cliff” and into a recession, or worse. America’s public school leaders are following this drama very closely.

From “The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) estimates the reductions would amount to over $4 billion. That would plunge education funding into pre-2003 levels, according to the National Education Association.”

On the school district level, that would work out to a loss of more than $300,000 for every 5,000 children enrolled, says Deborah Rigsby of the National School Boards Association.

Some education purists probably think K-12 funding is the responsibility of the states and local communities, and don’t understand how dependent our schools have become on federal handouts.

A U.S. Senate subcommittee illustrated our schools’ dependency on federal dollars when it estimated that 46,000 school employees nationwide could be out of a job if the budget cuts occur.

Those layoffs might not be felt until next fall, but they’d likely lead to a reduction in student programs and an increase in class sizes, reports Other K-12 programs, such as Title I, Head Start and special education, would be hit by the cuts immediately.

According to an AASA survey from July, 90 percent of state and local district leaders said they would be unable to “soften the impact” of the coming budget cuts.

One school leader told that his district didn’t have any way of replacing the federal funds, and likened the threat of budget cuts to being “under attack.”

That’s the wrong way to think about this problem. School officials aren’t being attacked; they’re simply being given a reality check.

The federal government is $16 trillion in debt. That means the government’s gravy train is eventually heading for a derailment, and quite possibly a spectacular one. Even if our federal leaders prevent this current crisis from occurring (which they probably will), there will be more and bigger financial crises in our future.

Instead of complaining, school leaders should earn their six-figure salaries by coming up with plans for getting their districts’ fiscal houses in order. That will require reducing expenses and taking a hard line with their school employee unions at the bargaining table.

Union members won’t be happy when they’re told that raises for longevity, Cadillac health care plans, retirement bonuses and various other payouts simply can’t continue. Many of them will pitch very public fits by “working to contract” or going on strike.

Regardless, school leaders must stand their ground and rally the public to their side by explaining, in very clear terms, why a little pain now is preferable to a total meltdown later.

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