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When will cuts in public education end?

Across the board, discretionary federal spending cuts will be made unless Congress agrees on a bipartisan plan to reduce the federal deficit in a process called "sequestration." If there's no agreement by Jan. 2, painful cuts are coming to Colorado Springs.

Local media outlets have drawn attention to these federal cuts in the military and aerospace sectors. But as a teacher, I urge you to consider how this will impact our public education schools and students. Specifically, which students in our community will be left behind if such cuts do occur?

Public schools are already struggling to meet the demands of 21st-century learning, with class sizes expanding, resources shrinking and teachers feeling more burdened by such limitations. And now they will be in the unenviable position of once again being tasked with doing more with less.

Our local school districts will lose up to $6.3 million in Head Start funding, which prepares our at-risk children for kindergarten, if sequestration cuts occur. According to recent rigorous, peer-reviewed studies, children who attend Head Start have significant gains throughout their lives when compared to at-risk children who do not attend early education programs. Specifically, these children are less likely to repeat grades and are more likely to graduate from high school. It is an education program well worth protecting.

In Colorado, $11.6 million would be slashed from Title I, the program serving our most economically disadvantaged students who struggle academically without adequate resources. Intervention teachers, curriculum toolkits and additional computers — these are the tools we know fuel opportunities for raising academic achievement in Title I schools. If Congress fails to act, we will witness these resources and teachers disappear from schools that need them most.

Children with special needs will also suffer if $12 million disappears from Colorado's IDEA funding. Students with learning disabilities thrive in school when they receive targeted, individualized intervention, coaching and other support following regular classroom instruction. Without the specialized supports funded by IDEA, many students will continue to fall behind and ultimately fail.

"Marco," one of my lower-income special education students, entered middle school as a withdrawn and passive sixth-grader. After spending over an hour daily receiving targeted math and literacy support from a highly qualified interventionist for two years, he has evolved into an enthusiastic and confident eighth-grader, thriving academically and socially. He is now a member of the Leadership Club and is determined to beat the odds. Marco's success illustrates the effectiveness of Title I and IDEA supports.

Even though the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, our most needy children — those living in poverty or economically disadvantaged communities — continue to be left behind in our schools. For almost 11 years, the law has forced public schools to improve student achievement or face punishment. But no school can make significant and long-term gains in achievement without adequate resources and teachers.

Now is not the time to leave even more children and schools behind with sequestration budget cuts. It's not right that Congress is cutting middle-class priorities like education while giving the richest Americans and huge corporations large tax breaks. The wealthy and multinational companies can afford to pay their fair share so we can prepare our most at-risk children for brighter futures. I think it's reasonable to do away with the Bush policies for these taxpayers and allow their rates to return to Clinton-era rates, when millionaires and the middle class alike prospered.

I urge every citizen to do their part to stop public education cuts now. Reach out to our U.S. senators and representatives to vote for a fiscally responsible plan that protects our most vulnerable students. We cannot afford to lose an entire generation of children that will soon be called to contribute to local economic growth, civic engagement, intellectual vibrancy and cultural diversity in our communities.

Megan Sheppard, International Baccalaureate middle years program coordinator at North Middle School, also lectures at Colorado College.

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