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Which States Are Most Vulnerable to K-12 Sequester Cuts?

Sequestration—those 5 percent across-the-board cuts that hit school districts this year and are slated to be in place for a decade—has affected some districts and states harder than others. Part of the reason? Some states are much more dependent on federal funding than others.

So which states are the most vulnerable to federal cuts? AASA, the School Superintendents Association, took a look at that in a report released Thursday.

In the past, federal funding has only made up 8 percent or 9 percent of K-12 spending nationally, but it was a bit higher in 2011-12, because states were still recovering from the recession, explained Noelle Ellerson, the associate executive director for policy and advocacy at AASA, who crafted the report.

More than half the districts in these 14 states rely on the federal government for 15 percent or more of their revenue: Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Interestingly, most of those are "red" states. Republicans, have, in general, been less vocal about the impact of sequestration on schools than Democrats.  

More than 6 percent of schools nationwide relied on the feds for 25 percent or more of their total revenues. And more than half of the districts in 21 states had operating budgets in which the feds kicked in more money than the national average of 11.8 percent for the 2011-12 school year, according to the report. (Importantly, sequestration didn't kick in for most schools until this school year, 2013-14. AASA used the best data available.

Does that mean schools in states and districts most heavily reliant on federal revenue have suffered the most under sequestration? Not necessarily. State and local budget conditions also are important—many states used their own money to fill in the federal holes. But these states presumably would have had some of the biggest holes to fill.

AASA released a similar analysis last year, right when the debate over sequestration was heating up. That analysis used data from the 2010-11 school year, the best available at the time. The states that are most reliant on federal funding are largely unchanged, but you can view the full list from last year here.

The AASA and the National Education Association, a 3 million- member teachers' union, used this latest report's release as one more chance to call on Congress to please, please get rid of the sequester cuts to education already. Both groups—and pretty much every other education advocate in Washington—have been screaming about this until their throats were sore for well over a year now.

"The austerity policies ushered in by Congress aren't working. They are harming our students and our economy," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, in a statement accompanying the report's release. "In fact, the across-the-board cuts, coupled with the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, are wreaking havoc in schools across the country and will only grow worse if allowed to continue."

So far, however, the impact of sequestration has been uneven and difficult to quantify, with the Head Start early-childhood education program and Impact Aid (which helps districts make up for tax revenue lost because of a federal presence, such as a Native American reservation) bearing the brunt. Advocates argue that the cuts will be tougher to take if they stay in place for a decade, as they're currently slated to, unless Congress acts.

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