If Congress can't agree on a long-term deficit-reduction plan by the end of the year, the resulting cuts could mean "especially dire consequences for the poorest children in the poorest school districts," many of which are in rural areas, according to the Rural School and Community Trust.
The nonprofit rural education advocacy group wrote in its most recent Rural Policy Matters newsletter that the cuts to formula programs are among the most significant, yet under-reported, aspects of the budget situation.
Formula programs give districts money based on the number of students who qualify for programs; districts don't compete against one another for funding.
Formula grants are particularly important to "small, high-poverty, low-wealth, and/or rural because these districts are the least likely to have the existing funds and staffing capacity to write competitive grants, and their smaller student numbers, more scattered locations, and widely diverse circumstances also make them less able to 'win' in a competitive context," according to the Rural Trust.
The cuts under what's known as "sequestration" would affect programs such as the Rural Education Achievement Program, which is designed to help rural districts that may lack the personnel and resources to compete effectively for federal competitive grants.
The automatic cuts would be triggered for the 2013-14 school year should Congress not agree on a budget by Jan. 2, 2013. The White House has detailed how those cuts would affect education.
It's no surprise the Rural Trust is keeping a close eye on the federal programs funded by formula. The group has been the key sponsor of the Formula Fairness Campaign, which is a coalition of more than two dozen groups pushing to change the federal Title I formula. They say it discriminates against smaller, higher poverty districts.