Standing fairness on its head

Their agenda is alarming on many fronts. The House slashed student aid funding for federal programs such as SEOG and LEAP and reduced the maximum Pell grant by $845. They cut funding for TRIO and GEAR UP programs, our country’s signature college access and retention programs, by almost 3 percent and 6 percent, respectively. They also voted to cut community block grants by 45 percent and eliminate many programs that, while tiny in comparison to the total federal budget, are important to the communities they serve.

For instance, how would reducing the TRIO programs – which made up only 0.7 percent of the federal budget in FY 2010 and serves just 10 percent of the eligible population -- make any real difference in reducing our national debt?      

How will America be poised to compete globally if we continue to deprive low-income communities of resources or keep postsecondary education out of the reach of our youth?

I am afraid that proposing or passing these measures signals just the beginning of attempts by policymakers in the House to deliberately target a largely voiceless constituency—low-income students and their families.

I agree that we must recognize America’s spending over the past decade has outpaced its “income,” and the gap between the rich and poor is widening. This is a recipe for disaster. The possible results could be the protests and demonstrations taking place right now in Wisconsin, but only on a national level. Can you imagine the possible days, or even, months of political unrest following policy that continues to leave behind low-income Americans? Especially at this time – when recent reports indicate that for the first time over 50 percent of public school students are receiving a free or reduced-price lunch.

Therefore, let me sound the alarm: In the current deficit reduction fervor, low-income Americans are getting the shortest end of the stick—and ultimately, all of us will pay.

We must not allow lawmakers to pass measures that hinder our nation’s long–term economic prospects and unfairly burden our neediest citizens. America’s future lies in its ability to produce a well-educated, well-equipped 21st century workforce, and for that reason, as well as for our fundamental values, we must not forget about low-income Americans.

Arnold L. Mitchem, Ph.D., is the president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, the only national organization dedicated to furthering the expansion of postsecondary opportunities for low-income and first-generation students.

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