Cutting Deep: Schools and Sequestration
Remember the Super Committee? Formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, it was a bipartisan congressional committee established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 tasked with identifying $1.2 trillion in federal budgetary savings (through spending cuts, revenue increases and program reforms) over ten years.
If you remember the Super Committee, you also remember that it failed. And the consequence of that failure is looming on the horizon: Sequestration.
Sequestration refers to the across-the-board budget cuts of approximately nine percent that are scheduled to take effect on January 2, 2013. It is a blunt instrument, applying budget cuts to all discretionary spending programs, from defense to education and medical research to housing, regardless of program effectiveness or return on investment.
The most widely discussed aspect of sequestration is cuts to defense spending. Almost immediately after the Super Committee failed, talks began among some lawmakers as to how sequestration could be reformed to exempt the industry. (To date, no changes have been made.)
But recently, more attention is focused on the impact that sequestration would have on the non-defense discretionary spending that provide our core government services – the services from which our entire society benefits.
In particular, recent work looks at the impact sequestration would have on education, which is tied to the economic and social health of both the nation as a whole and local communities. The U.S. Department of Education is projected to lose over $4 billion next year, in addition to the cuts already inflicted since the recession began. New analysis by the National Education Association (NEA) suggests that the new cuts will result in between 74,600 and 80,500 job losses and impact between 8.97 and 9.35 million students. And a new survey from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) offers more specifics on how schools and districts are preparing to weather these devastating cuts.
According to AASA's results, 90% of respondents (mainly public school superintendents, assistant/associate/deputy superintendents and directors) recognize that their state would be unable to absorb or offset the cuts of sequestration, and 89.5% indicate their district would be unable to so either. Given that context, these administrators are taking a variety of approaches to plan for the possible occurrence. More than half (54.1%) built cuts in to their 2012-2013 budgets to offset sequestration – 25.9% reduced spending by 9% for the full school year, while the rest took a less drastic approach. Still, 45.2% of respondents are waiting to see when and how sequestration unfolds before making changes, planning to do so as needed (though they may already have a plan of action in the event that these cuts come to be).
In planning for sequestration, administrators are reporting cuts to personnel, curriculum, facilities and operations, as they have throughout the course of the recession. However, as the report points out, the difference is that this round of cuts will more directly impact student achievement. Earlier in the recession, districts were able to make cuts in areas unlikely to impact student achievement (for example, changing thermostats). They also had access to rainy day funds, which have since been depleted.
Certain activities are popular targets for savings among respondents: Reducing professional development (69.4% are doing so), reducing academic programs (enrichment, after-school, intervention and so on – 58.1%), laying off non-instructional staff (56.6%), increasing class size (54.9%), laying off instructional staff (54.8%), and deferring technology purchases (52.8%).
Something important to note: While many districts rely on federal funding through Title I (which provides additional funding for low-income students) and IDEA (which provides additional funding for special education students), as well as Title II (which provides funding for preparing, training and recruiting high quality teachers and principals), as one respondent from Missouri points out, “The cuts do not just affect our federally funded programs. They impact all instructional program areas, as these areas will have to assist in covering shortfalls.”
As a respondent from Alabama puts it, “The bottom line is that kids and society pay the price.”
Nearly as distressing as the cuts being made is the fact that the federal government – essentially the entity forcing districts to make them – does not seem to be providing much information on which these decisions can be based. The vast majority of respondents believe that the federal stakeholders – the Obama administration, Congress, their own congressional delegation, and the congressional education and appropriations subcommittees – have provided either nonexistent or poor/very poor information on sequestration. They also rank state-level officials poorly in providing information, believing that the best information on sequestration has come from professional organizations.
Yet despite the lack of information that they have received on this subject, the survey demonstrated what AASA termed a pragmatic understanding and anticipation of the deep cuts coming. And a large proportion of respondents – 88.2% – agree with the notion that Congress should continue the work of the Super Committee and identify a better way to achieve the budgetary cuts that our nation needs in order to thrive. Hopefully, those in Congress heed their call.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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