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Your Take: Bill a Threat to Poor Students

A below-the-radar measure would allow billions aimed at educating poor kids to be diverted.

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Unfortunately, today's congressional leaders are not the only policymakers prioritizing politics over the needs of students. In New Jersey, where the state Supreme Court has long affirmed the need for students in poor districts to receive additional funds (pdf), Gov. Chris Christie recently slashed funding for such districts, resulting in an arduous court battle.

Meanwhile, advocates in Pennsylvania saw their efforts to cement a new funding plan, intended to bring more money to poor schools, decimated when Gov. Tom Corbett cut the state's education budget. Another legal showdown emerged in North Carolina, where the Republican-led General Assembly attempted to limit funding for low-income students to attend state-sponsored preschool.

These examples represent a troubling tendency of some policymakers to ignore the needs of our most disadvantaged students when political expediency permits. Tough economic times have allowed them to hide behind the guise of shared sacrifice. But while budget cuts can negatively affect all students, they are particularly harmful to students already trailing behind wealthier kids.

Cutting free state-sponsored pre-K has a very different effect in a community with few preschool options versus a suburban area where parents compete for private school placements. Policymakers may argue that all students must bear the weight of the recession, but they cannot deny that these decisions may widen the achievement gap between low-income (often black and Latino) and wealthier kids.

Protecting the funds and services that we know help low-income and minority kids learn has to be a priority, even in difficult economic times. Instead of viewing these resources as "extras," we should consider them indispensable tools in overcoming the achievement gap.

Legislators, in Washington, D.C., and across the nation, should work hard to preserve these resources instead of hiding behind politically driven claims that there may be better uses for such funds, that increased money will not to lead increased academic achievement or that all districts must bear the weight of budget cuts equally.

Low-income and minority students have made significant strides in educational achievement in the years since Congress passed ESEA. Many states and districts have followed suit in creating specific programs and allocating funds to help disadvantaged kids learn. Although we have much to learn about the most effective uses, rolling back support for students who need it the most is certainly not the way forward.

Saba Bireda is a Harvard Law School graduate and deputy director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council. Eric Rafael Gonzalez is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the education policy advocate for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

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