If the so-called fiscal cliff occurs, school districts across the country will see larger classes, fewer teachers and program specialists, a decline in professional development, and potentially devastating cuts to programs that help disadvantaged students.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) hosted a media conference call to discuss the looming “fiscal cliff” and the impact it could have on federal K-12 programs. More than 200 school districts have passed resolutions urging Congress to spare education programs, which collectively make up less than 1 percent of the total federal budget.
Federal education programs face an estimated cut of 8.2 percent or more on Jan. 2, 2013, according to estimates by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, unless Congress takes action to cancel those cuts. These cuts are scheduled to occur through a process called sequestration, defined as the automatic, across-the-board cancellation of budgetary resources, which was put into place last year through a deal to avoid lifting the debt ceiling. Aside from Impact Aid, school districts would not see any impact until the 2013-14 school year because federal education programs are funded in advance.
But already, school board members say they are beginning their budget processes and cannot accurately plan until the issue is resolved. Currently, for every $1 million in federal aid a school district receives, NSBA estimates that $82,000 would be cut–more than the cost of one experienced teacher.
The cuts would not end in 2013, either, NSBA’s Director of Federal Legislation Deborah Rigsby said. Sequestration is slated to take place over the next 10 budget cycles with varying percentages of cuts, totaling $1.2 to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Further, school districts would likely see state and local revenues decline because those governments would receive less money for programs outside of education.
“These cuts to our schools would be devastating and would hurt student achievement,” Rigsby said.
Jill Wynns, a school board member in the San Francisco Unified School District, said that districts across her state had seen decreases of 20 to 24 percent since 2008, and sequestration would impose another $387 million cut. Districts have been allowed to use state funds designated for disadvantaged students and specialized programs such as career and technical education to cover basic operating costs.
“Federal cuts would devastate these programs,” Wynns said. “We’re talking about actual programs for real students, teachers’ jobs—investments for our future.”
Dozens of school districts are bordering on insolvency, she added.
In Ft. Cobb, Okla., many students and adults rely on technical schools to learn new skills and improve their employment prospects, said Dustin Tackett, president of the Caddo Kiowa Technology Center Board of Education.
And in Charlottesville, Va., a district that would see immediate effects because it receives federal Impact Aid funds, sequestration cuts would likely eliminate teacher jobs, said school board member Juandiego Wade.
“All we’ve known the last four to five years are cuts, and we’ve already cut to the bone,” he said. “We feel like we’re under attack.”
NSBA is asking school districts across the country to pass resolutions as soon as possible to send the message to Congress that sequestration would significantly harm their schools. Members of Congress are meeting this week and may take action on a compromise plan in coming days, said Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s director of federal advocacy and public policy.
To learn more about NSBA’s efforts to prevent sequestration, and actions that local school board members can take at the grassroots level, go to www.nsba.org/stopsequestration.