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Is Sequestration the New Normal for Federal K-12 Aid?

UPDATED

So now that the sequester has happened, is Congress doing anything to reverse the cuts? So far, it's not looking great.

First off, on Monday Republicans on the committee that controls spending legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives released their version of a giant spending bill to keep the U.S. government—including the U.S. Department of Education—in business for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

The legislation doesn't include any sort of language to roll back the sequester cuts, which would amount to 5.3 percent across the board next year. Instead, every program, including special education, Title I grants for disadvantaged kids, and even competitive grant programs like Race to the Top, would be funded at last year's level, minus the cut. (There would be, however, a tiny pocket of money—$3 million—for an emergency response program, $3 million for schools, districts, and higher education institutions where "the learning environment has been disrupted due to a violent or traumatic crisis." Could that be directed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, site of the December shootings in Newtown, Conn.?)

UDPATE: The House has approved the spending bill. The administration put forth a statement saying that it is disappointed that the legislation doesn't roll back the cuts. But the statement doesn't include an explicit veto threat.

The U.S. Senate—which is controlled by Democrats—still hasn't released its spending legislation for fiscal year 2013. The Senate Appropriations panel could decide to do a real spending bill rather than just an extension measure. That, theoretically, would allow Congress to steer more funding to important programs (like Title I and special education) to help alleviate the impact of sequestration.

What's more, President Barack Obama said in a recent press conference that he would stick to the deal he's already made with Republicans. That may mean he could sign a budget agreement for this year that leaves sequestration in place, at least temporarily, to avoid a government shutdown. (Check out the transcript for more.)

The big worry for folks who want to see the feds increase money for schools? If Congress just lets the cuts go through, this could be the new baseline for federal spending. That would likely mean some cuts, especially for districts that serve poor children and those in special education, unless states and localities are able to make up the difference.

"I think the sequester is unfortunately here for this fiscal year," said Joel Packer, the executive director of Committee for Education Funding in Washington. "I think the fight has shifted to fiscal '14 and beyond."

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