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School Districts Wary of Federal Funding Fight

An overwhelming majority of school districts don't think they'll be able to absorb a big, blunt federal funding cut headed their way if Congress can't reach a deal on long-term spending by January 2013, according to a survey released today by the American Association of School Administrators.

Almost 80 percent of the school districts surveyed by AASA said they didn't think their states had the capacity to cope with a planned, across-the-board cut to all federal programs of 7.8 percent to 9.1 percent. And even more districts, 83.9, don't think they have the local capacity to deal with such a hefty reduction.

The survey provides ammunition to an army of inside-the-Beltway education associations who are working to convince Congress that the cuts are a bad idea and will be harmful to their communities.

Some background: The planned cuts—known as "sequestration" in federal budget-nerd speak—are the result of a deal last summer to raise the debt ceiling. The cuts would hit just about every federal education program, including Title I grants to districts, state grants for special education, and the School Improvement Grants.

The cuts are slated to go into effect in January of 2013, unless a broken-down, bitterly divided Congress can somehow work together to come up with another solution. A panel of lawmakers from both chambers (the not-so-super supercommittee) already tried to avert the cuts, but they were totally unsuccessful at even getting a proposal out, much less reaching a real agreement.

There are folks in both parties who are hoping to head the cuts off at the pass—although some lawmakers are much more worried about how the slicing and dicing will effect military spending, not education. The scenario that keeps education advocates up at night: Congress decides to spare the military, and that translates to even bigger cuts to domestic programs, including education.

It's no secret that education advocates are hoping that the administration starts taking a much more visible stand, getting out there and talking about how the proposed cuts would impact schools.

And it sounds like the folks AASA surveyed agree: 86 percent said they thought Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should start talking more about the impact of the cuts and 87 percent want to see the leadership of the House and Senate education committees step up their efforts, too.

Just 7.4 percent of those surveyed think the congressional leaders on education issues have done a good job talking about how the cuts would hurt school districts.

The survey also found that, while state budgets are beginning to bounce back, overall funding levels, including for education, are still at pre-recession levels. One indicator: 68.2 percent of the folks surveyed said that they eliminated positions in 2010-11 and this year the percentage is virtually identical, 68 percent. More than 65 percent of those surveyed expect to slash positions in the 2012-13 school year.

Some methodology: 528 school administrators from 48 states responded to the survey, which was conducted in February 2012.

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