School districts all around the country are bracing for an across-the-board cut in federal funds, set to go into effect on Friday, unless lawmakers and the Obama administration are able to come to some kind of agreement to head them off. The cuts would impact just about every federal program under the sun, from the U.S. Department of Education to the Pentagon and the Justice Department.
Ever since the threat of cuts were put in place to prod a long-term deficit reducation deal, education advocates and some lawmakers—such as U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the panel that oversees K-12 spending— have been trying to draw attention to how they would effect education, which hasn't grabbed as many headlines as say, the military.
The latest effort: a series of reports from the White House that detail how many teachers and teacher aides could potentially lose their jobs if the cuts go through. The report also looks at the number of children who could potentially be shut out of Head Start and Early Head Start programs. It also highlights cuts to other federal services for children, such as vaccine funding.
For instance, Alabama stands to lose about $11 million in funding for K-12 primary and secondary education, according to the White House. That could mean the loss of 150 teachers and aides. The state could also lose $9 million in funding for students with disabilities, which could potentially result in 110 teachers getting pink slips. And 1,100 children could lose access to Head Start or Early Head Start, programs administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in an interview with reporters on Thursday, estimated that nationwide, $725 million in Title I funds could get cut, putting 10,000 jobs at risk. States could also lose $598 million in special education funding, the equivalent of 7,200 jobs.
Of course, it's likely that local and state implementation of the cuts would have a major impact on how they would actually be carried out. Theoretically, states and districts could raise revenue, or move funding from other programs in order to make up for the dip in federal funds. That's something states and districts are just beginning to figure out right now, as they craft their budgets for the coming fiscal year and for the next school year.
The cuts outlined by the White House are based on current estimates of funding for federal programs in fiscal year 2013. But the budget for that year hasn't been finalized yet. Instead, most of the federal government, including the Education Department, has been operating on a temporary extension measure that expires at the end of this month. But we won't know the final funding levels for programs like Head Start until Congress actually approves a budget for this year.
It's also important to note that most funded K-12 programs, such as Title I grants for districts and special education, won't feel the squeeze until July 1, giving districts time to plan because of their federal funding schedule. So it still remains to be seen just how close to the mark these estimates are.
UPDATE [2/25 8:40 A.M.]: And the White House continued throughout the weekend to turn up the heat on lawmakers, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared on CBS' Face the Nation to protest the "dumb cuts". "We don't have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is," he said. "It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs."
This isn't the first state-by-state look at sequestration. The very smart folks at the American Association of School Administrators put out a similar analysis a few months ago. Their work showed that states that are heavily dependent on federal funding for education (such as New Mexico) would fare better than states that depend less on the feds to finance K-12 (like Connecticut). The White House report yields similar results when it comes to education.
Some background: The looming cuts, known by the Inside-the-Beltway term of "sequestration," were first put in place as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling way back in August of 2011. And they've already been delayed once, as part of a deal to avert the fiscal cliff back at the very beginning of 2013.