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Under proposed national budgets, the rich will get richer, while the undereducated get screwed


Some 40 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty undertook the challenge of ending the economic injustice plaguing the republic since its inception. Under the Great Society banner, his administration was responsible for initiating some of the most progressive federal programs since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.

Today, the nation is burdened with an administration whose actions amount to a different kind of war: one not on poverty, but on the poor. Though both House and Senate budget versions cut domestic spending by more than $150 billion during the next five years, the deficit, already at a historic high, is projected to increase by more than $125 billion over the same time period, according to a New York Times editorial. The Bush administration's budget proposes slashing programs that have served the poor for decades. Meanwhile, all three budget versions provide deficit-bloating benefits to the wealthy. Low tax rates for dividends and capital gains, scheduled to expire in 2008, may be extended through 2010.

Nearly three-quarters of the tax benefits would go to the richest three percent of the population, the Times reports. This exercise in government welfare for the wealthy is expected to result in a $23 billion tax loss.

Another scheme involving deductions favoring taxpayers earning more than $200,000 would lead to a $95 billion revenue loss over a decade. And these figures don't take into account the billions lost as a result of tax loopholes and concessions to corporations.

While continuing its characteristic largesse to the rich, the Bush administration is putting dozens of successful and long-standing Department of Education programs on the cutting block. By far, the majority of these programs affect people most in need of government assistance and having the least in the way of alternate resources.

Even as their opportunities for education are threatened, an increasing number of American families are falling victim to poverty. As the global economy becomes more complex and, some would say, ruthless; as the United States continues to bleed jobs to other nations; the number of people lacking skills to survive, much less thrive, continues to grow.

In a letter to the Arizona congressional delegation, Greg Hart, dean of Pima Community College's Adult Education program, notes that while Arizona has more than 8,000 people on waiting lists for adult-education classes, the president recommends a 66 percent reduction in federal funds for adult basic education and the elimination of the Even Start Family Literacy program.

The national outlook is grim. "Those cuts, if enacted, will devastate if not entirely destroy access to educational opportunities for millions of our neediest citizens," writes Hart.

Despite Bush's "leave no child behind" rhetoric, if the administration's budget requests stand, children and families will be left not only further behind, but abandoned.

As an example of the administration's hypocritical budget proposals, consider TRIO. Funded under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, these programs serve middle school and high school students coming from families with incomes less than $28,000 where neither parent graduated from college. Close to a million low-income children are served; the overwhelming percentage are children of color.

At PCC, more than 1,300 students participate in TRIO's Talent Search and Upward Bound programs, according to information provided by the college's Community and Media Relations Office. Children participating in these programs have a better chance of entering and graduating from college, and the numbers prove it.

The Council for Opportunity in Education reports Upward Bound students are four times more likely to earn an undergraduate degree than their peers. Students in TRIO's Student Support Services program are more than twice as likely to remain in college than those not receiving services.

Funding for the 48 programs on the president's education hit list totals approximately $4.3 billion. Besides more tax cuts that benefit the wealthy while continuing to add to the fiscally insane deficit, Bush proposes a $20 billion increase to the Pentagon budget; an increase not even Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan, supports.

The good news is that neither all lawmakers, nor the people affected by the morally bankrupt budget machinations, are taking the cuts lying down. A resolution by Sen. Ted Kennedy to increase education funding by $5.4 billion passed 51-49, though other socially and fiscally responsible resolutions failed. Kennedy's amendment, however, does not ensure all the education programs targeted for elimination will survive. Neither Arizona senator supported the measure. In the House, Rep. Raul Grijalva voted against his chamber's version of the budget. Looking to what promises to be a fractious process, Grijalva said in a recent interview, "I see some big fights ahead."

Meanwhile, protests and vigils are springing up from Washington to California. Letters, e-mails and ad campaigns oppose Republican lawmakers' egregious abuse of power and ideologically driven denial of human needs. With enough action, the White House and Capitol Hill may just get the message, especially if that message is delivered by several hundred thousand citizens camping on the National Mall in Washington and promising not to leave until the government delivers a budget to serve the people.

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