School officials know all too well that patience is a virtue and now they have to show a bit more after Congress narrowly avoided pulling the country over the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1.
The new bill passed by the U.S. Senate early Tuesday morning and the House later that night will postpone the trigger cuts known as "sequestration" until March, to give legislators more time to create a comprehensive budget agreement. For now, the nation's schools have been spared across-the-board cuts — but only temporarily, reports Education Week.
The stop-gap measure awaiting President Obama's signature basically sets up yet another major fiscal battle later this year. Congress has two months to come up with new legislation to deal with sequestration. If it fails to meet this deadline, federal education funds will be cut by about 10 percent, forcing public schools to employ cost-trimming measures in federally funded programs.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the Department of Education will be hit with automatic, across-the-board cuts ranging from 7.8 percent in 2013 to 5.5 percent in 2021.While not all of these reductions would be immediate, federal programs such as Head Start, Title I and state special education funding would feel the impact right away.
"This is a temporary, Band-Aid solution," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement. "Kicking the can down the road for two months means that we still face the possibility of staggering and debilitating cuts to public schools..."
The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) estimates that education cuts will surpass $4 billion. AASA reported in its latest study that poorer school districts would suffer more under sequestration because they are disproportionately reliant on federal revenues. As a result, these districts would have to apply the across-the-board cut to a larger portion of their operating budgets.
Deborah Rigsby, director of federal legislation for the National School Boards Association, said that, if sequestration happens, each school district could lose more than $300,000 for every 5,000 children enrolled. According to the NSBA, sequestration may not automatically affect most schools’ 2012-2013 budgets, but the impact could be great for the 2013-2014 school year.
“Education budgets across the country have persisted through unprecedented cuts attributable to the recession. The additional cuts of sequestration will devastate the already fragile economic reality of our nation’s schools,” noted AASA President Benny Gooden.
School districts such as Roanoke Valley (Va.) County Schools and Pittsburgh Public Schools are working to raise awareness about sequestration and urging families to protest these cuts by writing to their representatives in Washington. If sequestration takes effect, Pittsburgh school officials estimate the district would lose $3.5 million in 2013–2014, an 8.2-percent decrease, in various federal program money including Title 1, Title 2, IDEA and Head Start.
Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, a top advisor to the governor, said his office estimates the state could lose up to $300 million if there is an 8 percent cut in federal spending. This would translate into an estimated annual cut of $43 million for poor (Title 1) school districts and a cut of about $33 million for special education.
As president of the National School Boards Association, C. Ed Massey said he has visited schools across the country to discuss the potential sequestration with fellow board members, teachers and officials. He pointed to a school district in Pennsylvania that could be forced to cancel its summer reading program and another in Nevada that may have to cut funding for early childhood education and services for homeless students.
“Like these school districts, many others would have to defer purchasing new textbooks and technology. Others would have to defer maintenance on school buildings and buses,” added Massey.