Sequestration kind of rhymes with armageddon, and that is the sentiment surrounding the potential across-the-board reductions in funding to every federal agency. Without serious intervention by lawmakers, these cuts could go into effect Friday. For public schools, however, cuts wouldn’t go into effect until the new fiscal year on July 1.
For the sake of this blog post, let’s pretend the sequestration does go into effect. What will that mean for public education in America? Well, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan estimated $725 million in Title I funds, earmarked for schools serving the largest populations of poor students, could disappear. She said about 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. States could also lose almost $600 million in special education funding, according to The Educated Reporter.
Nationally, federal dollars account for about 12 percent of a local school district’s operation budget. For Columbia Public Schools, federal funding supports 7 percent of the budget, said Superintendent Chris Belcher at a school board meeting Monday. He mentioned the district was lucky in that regard, as some districts in the state (and country) rely much more heavily on federal dollars. For example, in states like Mississippi and Idaho, more than half of the school districts lean on federal funding for 20 percent of their budget.
Still, Belcher said, if the sequestration takes place, the district could lose up to $500,000 in funding with little time to adapt. There was no doubt in his mind that this would result in elimination of teaching positions, reductions in programs and would deal a serious blow to Head Start. For an already underfunded district, the repercussions of even less funding could be very widespread.
But let’s not head to the bomb shelters quite yet. The Washington Post came out with an article the other day that claims the sequester is spinning ahead of reality.
The administration’s dire projection that “as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs” is guesswork at best, according to the article, and most school districts will not start sending out layoff notices for the next school year until around May.
And some believe the federal money is out there for public education, but it is being funneled into wasteful programs. A bill from the Education and the Workforce Committee suggests reducing by half the number of federal education programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “This bill will help balance the budget, restore fiscal discipline, and promote a more appropriate federal role in education,” it says.
So what does sequestration mean for the kids of America? Honestly, I have no idea. And I don’t think many people out there do. We’re in a waiting game right now, but the reality is that all school districts rely on federal funding to some degree. And all school districts – and therefore student learning – will suffer with less of it.