The Committee for Education Funding (CEF) held a briefing on Capitol Hill yesterday afternoon that highlighted the continuing consequences that education cuts have had on our nation’s children and their early childhood programs, schools, and colleges and universities.

As CEF Executive Director Joel Packer noted, “Since 2010, federal education programs have been subject to multiple rounds of cuts totaling more than $80 billion.”

And with the congressionally imposed non-defense discretionary budget caps, he adds that it is “simple math” that it will be virtually impossible in the next few years to change course unless Congress takes affirmative steps to do something different.

On this point, National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti added that we often examine and make the case for education spending based on the return on investment, or ROI, of a program but the congressional cuts and freeze on spending have created inaction and a new COI, or “cost of inaction.” With the needs facing schools across the country to invest in education improvements, including technology improvements, this will create a growing opportunity gap for kids.

In addition, President of the United States Students Association (USSA) Sophia Zaman spoke to the growing issues of the student debt crisis and college affordability. She noted those twin problems are the “crisis of our generation,” as college students now have an average debt of $26,000.

Listening to these speakers left me with the observation of a simple notion: money matters and it matters greatly. In fact, although it’s a simple notion in a capitalist society that we all know to be true, there remain deniers of this fact when it comes to children and youth. This includes those who insist inequities and cuts in school funding somehow do not matter, despite overwhelming evidence pointing to just how very important it is.

Whether it is access to early childhood education, class size, interventions for struggling learners, rigorous curriculum, technology, class size, or investments in effective teachers, money clearly matters.

In fact, after highlighting the reams of research and court findings that demonstrate the importance that education funding plays in student achievement, education researchers Michael Rebell and Joseph Wardenski conclude:

We challenge our readers to find any parent, teacher, or school administrator in any poor community in the United States — or, for that matter, in any affluent community — who genuinely believes that money does not matter in education. As a state court judge in rural North Carolina bluntly put it, ‘Only a fool would find that money does not matter in education.’

Parents, teachers, and school administrators all know that quality schools and access to early childhood education and college costs money, but the fact is that poor and inadequate education funding will have consequences that are costlier and longer term than any savings the cuts have yielded.

Furthermore, it’s simply not just enough to ensure that our children are well educated. If we want them to have a bright future, we need to ensure that they are also healthy, well fed, and have a safe place to live.

Unfortunately, at a time when more than one in every five children live in poverty, too many of our nation’s children are not getting this basic level of care. Schools alone cannot handle the burden that these extra issues create. For example:

  • The Southern Education Foundation reported that for the first time in history in 2011, the majority of kids in the southern and western United States in PreK to 12th grade public schools were low-income.
  • 60 percent of kids in public schools in American cities were from low-income families.

We need to invest in and protect all of our children and give them the supports they need. So, how are we doing as a nation?

If the federal budget is a reflection of our nation’s priorities, since 2010, overall spending on investments for children have dropped by nearly 15 percent. Investments for kids make up only 8 percent of the federal budget and will soon be eclipsed by federal spending for interest on the national debt.

As the Urban Institute found in Kids’ Share 2013, “Federal spending on children fell by $28 billion, or 7 percent, in 2012, the largest single-year reduction since the early 1980s.”

As if that isn’t disastrous enough, the Urban Institute projects that by 2023 the share of federal spending on children will drop by another 20 percent as a share of overall federal spending.

It is time that we make real investments in our children – our future. As such, we have some urgent problems our nation must address for kids, including:

  • Education and Early Childhood: We all know that a 21st century education system must be built on the solid foundation provided by high-quality early childhood education and a public school system that is available to every child. Laying that foundation is not just an economic imperative — it is also about providing every child in this country a fair and equal opportunity to achieve their full potential.
  • Child Poverty: We simply cannot afford to accept the fact that more than one in five of our nation’s children are living in poverty. Like the British, we should adopt a Child Poverty Target that commits the nation to cutting child poverty in half over the next decade. If Social Security did it for senior citizens and the British have successfully done it for kids, we can successfully cut child poverty too. In fact, knowing the negative consequences that child poverty has on children and their future success, the fact is that we cannot afford not to address this problem.
  • Child Health: We have made such great progress with respect to children’s health coverage since the inception of Children’s Health Insurance Program. As a result, the nation should commit to protect and strengthen Medicaid and to fully fund and make permanent CHIP, so that we continue to make progress toward ensuring all children have access to the health care they need to thrive, grow, and succeed.
  • Child Abuse and Neglect: Rather than sweeping issues of child abuse and neglect and child trafficking under the rug as our nation has for far too long, we must shine a spotlight on the problems facing our nation’s most vulnerable children and commit to protecting and helping them overcome the ills that have befallen them and to put them on a better path to success.

These things will require a commitment by our nation’s leaders to invest in the next generation. We can’t afford not to.