As If We Didn’t Have Enough to Worry About

And we thought the state cuts to public education were bad. Now there’s a looming crisis at the federal level. We Americans so love to politicize education that playing games with our public school budgets – local, state, and federal – has practically become a national pastime. The losers in that game, of course, are always the students. Right now, there’s over $100 million on the line for Pennsylvania’s kids.

Today we learn about the consequences of sequestration – which has nothing to do with equestrians (which is too bad because I love horses) or Sea Quest (which is also too bad, since a friend of mine used to write for that television show). Fortunately, Jamie Baxter of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit has written an op-ed piece in today’s Post-Gazette explaining the process for us. After you’ve read the piece, you may feel moved to put those skills to work that we’ve all been cultivating together for the state budget negotiation: call or write your  legislators. Only this time, make sure you contact your federal legislators. (Here’s help finding your U.S. Representative and your U.S. Senators.)

We Must Avoid Sequestration: Savage Cuts in Education Funding Would Cripple Our Schools

In Washington and in Harrisburg the theme seems to be cut, cut, cut. The question is … when will the cuts end?

They surely will not end early next year when a huge reduction in federal funding is scheduled to take place. “Sequestration” is set to occur Jan. 2. This means that, unless Congress acts, all federal discretionary spending, including education, will be cut by as much as 9.1 percent.

In August 2011, Congress debated raising the debt ceiling. A bipartisan compromise, the Budget Control Act, was reached in an attempt to put the country on a fiscally stable path. Among other things, the act formed a 12-member bipartisan group of legislators to identify at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years.

This panel was given a deadline of Nov. 23, 2011, and if they failed to develop a plan, painful automatic cuts — sequestration — would follow. The cuts were considered so painful that they would serve as a powerful incentive for the legislators to compromise. Still, they failed to agree by the deadline, so sequestration now is scheduled to occur in January.

Sequestration would result in across-the-board cuts for most programs, including all discretionary education programs except for Pell grants. The estimated cuts are between 7.8 percent and 9.1 percent for fiscal year 2013.According to the Committee for Education Funding, this would mean a reduction of $3.5 billion to $4.1 billion for the Department of Education and a possible $725 million reduction in Head Start funding. Nationally, cutting $4.1 billion would translate into:

  • A $1.3 billion cut to Title I, impacting 1.7 million disadvantaged students.
  • A $1 billion cut to IDEA funding, impacting 536,000 students with disabilities.
  • A $102 million cut to Perkins Career and Technical Education Basic State Grants, impacting 1.4 million students.
  • The loss of 90,000 jobs.

In Pennsylvania, according to the National Education Association, a $4.1 billion reduction would translate into:

  • A $50.8 million cut to Title I, impacting 47,646 disadvantaged students and resulting in a loss of 622 jobs.
  • A $24.7 million cut to Head Start, impacting 3,399 students and resulting in a loss of 1,313 jobs.
  • A $39.2 million cut to IDEA state grants, impacting 24,287 students with disabilities and resulting in a loss of 481 jobs.
  • A $3.9 million cut to Perkins Career and Technical Education Basic State Grants, impacting 17,465 students and resulting in a loss of 48 jobs.

For most programs, sequestration would affect July 2013 allocations from the Department of Education. However, it likely would immediately affect funding for career and technical education, Title I money for disadvantaged students, Teacher Quality State Grants and IDEA state grants for students with disabilities.

These four programs receive allocations in July and October. Since the October money flows to states and schools throughout the year, any funds that go out on or after Jan. 2 would be cut. This mid-year loss could be particularly disruptive for school districts that have not taken into account this possibility.

With education budgets being slashed throughout Pennsylvania, sequestration would devastate many valuable programs and set a lower baseline for future allocations. This is unacceptable!

Schools already are struggling to do more with less. It is crucial that we reach out to Congress and encourage the adoption of a fiscally responsible plan to avoid these draconian cuts.

If sequestration occurs, then Congress would have failed to act. Its members would have failed to develop a bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit in order to avoid sequestration.

Please contact your federal legislators and explain what a 9 percent cut would mean to your school district, your community, your children. Use specific examples and describe how these cuts would occur at a time when state funding for education also is being slashed. Please pass this article on to others in your school district so they know what the impact of sequestration would be.

Since there is power in numbers, the education community must come together to stand up against these cuts. Visit the Committee for Education Funding’s website ( and sign the petition declaring that you “support investing in education, not cutting it.”

[Jamie Baxter, director of legislative policy and advocacy for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, is president of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition of more than 90 education organizations.]

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