The NEA has updated its analysis of the impact of the sequester on major education programs, using the 5.1% cut assumed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). They project a little over a $30 million dollar cut to the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act program, and a nearly $89 million dollar cut to Career, Technical, and Adult Education overall:
From a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy profile of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s first vice president for public policy, David C. Colby:
Mr. Colby will split his time between Princeton, N.J., where the fund’s headquarters are located, and Washington, where he’ll work to educate politicians about the foundation’s research and learn how the fund can help lawmakers shape policy. A big focus this year will be on helping the federal government make smart decisions about where it trims spending. (my emphasis)
Interesting that the focus here is on where to cut, not whether to cut. There very well may be some savings to be had in some of the areas that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation cares about—and I assume they will limit themselves to those things when they make their suggestions as to where to “trim”—but there are still reasonable people who think that any further cuts to federal non-defense discretionary spending is a bad idea, since Congress already cut, in 2012, $1.5 trillion of discretionary spending for fiscal years 2013 through 2022. Three-fifths of that is coming out of non-defense programs, which will shrink non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest level on record as a share of GDP.
Rick Cohen, writing for NPQ about the ever-present danger of further government program cuts:
Whether the cuts come in the lame duck session of Congress wrestling with the fiscal cliff or down the road as government begins to shrink more, nonprofits had better step up their explanations of what they do with the delivery of federal programs. The alternative? Even if the nation avoids the hammer of across-the-board sequestration cuts, the nonprofit sector will be fighting for its life—and for the lives of future programs—as more programs end up on the federal chopping block.
I’m a lot more worried about further non-defense discretionary program cuts than I am about a cap on charitable deductions. Putting aside the significant absence of evidence that the deduction has much effect on giving to begin with, individual donations to adult literacy programs tend to be relatively small on average, and come from middle-to-low-income donors who are often deeply committed to the issue. I don’t think these donors are going anywhere if the charitable deduction is reduced.
More importantly, many adult literacy organizations depend quite heavily on government support—as do many organizations that provide services to poor and disadvantaged people. If sequestration moves forward, the roughly 8% cut to adult education funding provided by Title II of the Workforce Investment Act is likely to have a far greater impact on adult education services than a 28% cap on the charitable deduction for high-income taxpayers. Alternatives to sequestration could be even worse. For example, as Cohen notes, the Heritage Foundation, in a proposal designed to shelter defense spending from sequester cuts, has proposed complete elimination of several specific programs that many adult education programs rely on for support, including the Community Development Block Grant program and national community service programs.
There is a big pushback right now on the charitable deduction issue, led by Independent Sector, the Philanthropy Roundtable, among others—including the Hill visits planned by the Charitable Giving Coalition in early December.
Nonprofits that rely heavily on federal programs to fund services for the poor and other disadvantaged individuals need to organize a similar effort that educates policymakers on the critical role of government support for this work.
UPDATE 12/02/12: A November 30th article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy suggests that I may not be the only one wondering why the groups claiming to representing the nonprofit sector are pressing so hard on the charitable deduction and not so much on stopping potential cuts to federal programs that support nonprofits:
Some nonprofits have been critical of leaders for not spending more time pushing Congress to avert the $55-billion in spending cuts that are scheduled to go into effect automatically on January 2 along with tax increases unless Congress makes a deficit-reduction deal.
Those cuts could hurt the operations of nonprofits that deliver services with government grants; nearly one-third of nonprofit financing comes from government sources.
Nonprofits will still be hurt even if the automatic cuts, called sequestration, don’t take place, charity experts say, because Congress will most likely slice spending on domestic programs.
“Even if there is a deal to avert the sequester, it’s going to include substantial cuts to human-service programs, just maybe not as bad as the sequester,” said Steve Taylor, senior vice president for public policy at United Way Worldwide. “Part of the reason we’re fighting so hard on the charitable deduction is that we know cuts are coming. We need to be able to raise private funds to continue to deliver human services.”
I agree that there is a significant danger that a new round of cuts to non-defense discretionary human-service programs that could be part of the deal to avert sequestration. But it’s really not inevitable that this will happen. If United Way and others are worried about the challenge of raising additional private funds to cover for a potential loss in government funding, it might make sense to spend at least part of their time on the Hill this week arguing against making those cuts to begin with. There are other groups working very hard to make that case. Perhaps United Way, Independent Sector, and Philanthropy Roundtable could join with them.
In fact, NDD United, the coalition working to save nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs from more cuts, is holding a briefing on December 4th, just as nonprofits leaders are arriving here in Washington for the Charitable Giving Coalition’s “Protect Giving” event.
Here is information about the NDD briefing:
Planning for “The Plan”
Guest Speaker: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
SD-G50, Dirksen Senate Office Building
RSVP to CRDFellow@dc-crd.com
During last week’s debate, Mitt Romney made what sounded like, to many, a straightforward promise not to cut federal education spending if elected: “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and—and grants that go to people going to college… I’m not planning on making changes there.”
How seriously you take this pledge seems to depend a lot on which candidate you support. But it’s fair to argue that there’s some wiggle room in Romney’s statement. For one thing, we know that presidents can propose what are ultimately going to be de facto program cuts to some programs but call them something else. Over the last several budgets, for example, the Obama administration has proposed what are essentially cuts to certain federal education programs by proposing to “consolidate” them under broader program titles. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that overall education spending gets cut, it can lead to certain funding streams being reduced under the new consolidated programs, whatever they may be. (Thus the administration was able to say that they proposed an overall increase to education in FY11, even while creating conditions that essentially resulted in the elimination of federal funding for family literacy when it consolidated away the Even Start program.)
There are also programs outside the Department of Education budget, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service (to pick one example) that provide educational programs. This you could eliminate CNCS while still claiming you are technically not cutting education, even though elimination of this program would effectively reduce federal education resources. (By this logic, some would argue that eliminating funding for PBS, as Romney did say he would do, would also effectively be an education cut.)
And while the automatic, across-the-board sequestration cuts that are currently set to occur on January 2nd can’t by any stretch be considered Romney policy, if he is elected and those cuts go into effect, he will in fact be presiding over a significant cut to education spending, and/or be working with Congress on legislation to eliminate sequestration with another plan. His pledge to not cut education spending would be more significant, I think, if he would make it explicit that his sequester replacement plan would leave education spending untouched.
Most importantly, as we’ve seen over the last several years, Congress and the administration often must compromise in order to get a budget passed, and in that compromise the administration may be forced to cut programs it would rather not cut in order to preserve funding for programs it believes are more important. If Romney is elected, we can assume that Republicans will retain control of the House, and possibly gain control of the Senate (where Paul Ryan would have the tiebreaker vote). Doesn’t it seem likely that Congressional Republicans would craft a budget with significant education cuts whether Romney likes it or not? And then what would he do? Would Romney actually pick a fight with his own party over these cuts?
I think it’s safe to assume that the Obama administration did not intend to reduce education spending when it took office in 2009. But that hasn’t prevented federal education spending from declining significantly. Is it reasonable to expect that a Romney administration would make the same effort—and with better success—at fighting off Congressional spending cuts to education than the Obama administration has?
A good followup question to Romney about his debate statement would be: Does your pledge not to cut education spending include a promise to veto any legislation passed by Congress that includes education cuts? I hope this comes up again in a future debate.
P.S. For adult education advocates, it’s also worth thinking about what other areas of the budget Romney might propose going after in order to preserve K-12 and higher education funding. Is adult education part of the education funding Romney is pledging to protect? (Doubtful.) If not, would adult education be even more vulnerable to cuts as Romney struggles to find other areas of discretionary spending to eliminate in order to offset the K-12/higher education spending holds?