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Sounding the Bell on Sequestration

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By Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA)

Each year, as Congress puts together the appropriations bills that comprise the total federal budget, AASA advocates for an increased investment in education, currently with a priority for funding for federal flagship formula programs like Title I and IDEA. In recent years, the focus has been on protecting level funding, in light of unprecedented fiscal hardship and, more recently, budget caps.

For the current fiscal year, however, yet more cuts threaten all federal programs with nearly 9 percent reductions in funds, sequestration: automatic, across-the-board cuts that will come in January 2013.

You'll recall that, last summer, as part of the agreement to raise the debt ceiling, the Budget Control Act (BCA) established a joint committee tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in federal savings over ten years. When Congress' so-called SuperCommittee failed to complete this task, they triggered sequestration. The cuts become a reality in January 2013.

While there are some exceptions to the programs that will be impacted by sequestration, it is, by and large, a measure that will make blind cuts, regardless of program effectiveness, demand or return on investment. (Sequestration attempts to address the deficit issue through spending cuts alone, whereas the SuperCommittee discussions included other measures, including increased revenues, mandatory program reform, and spending cuts.)

Recent reports by the Congressional Research Service indicate that the cuts of sequestration would put funding at pre-2004 levels. A return to FY2011 funding levels wouldn't occur until 2018. While the work of the SuperCommittee would come with cuts as well, it is anticipated those cuts wouldn't be as drastic because the identified savings would be a combination of cuts, revenues, and restructuring.

We have reached sequestration, because Congress failed to act. Sequestration was designed as a self-imposed consequence if the SuperCommittee did not complete its task. The Budget Control Act was authored and adopted by Congress. Congress is not the victim of sequestration.

Reach out to your Congressional delegation and tell them how damaging the cuts of sequestration will be to your district and community. Let them know that any efforts to exempt portions of the budget (such as defense spending) from the sequester simply compound the cuts for the remaining parts of the budget. Urge them to pick up the work of the SuperCommittee and identify a careful, reasoned approach to identifying the savings.

Sequestration and Education:

  • AASA's latest economic impact study Weathering the Storm: How the Economic Recession Continues to Impact Schools includes a section on sequestration. When superintendents were asked to weigh in on the impact of the cuts on schools, they reported little capacity to absorb the cuts: 'When asked if their state or local budget had the capacity to soften the impact of federal cuts (like those of sequestration), nearly all replied 'no' (79.4 percent for state capacity and 83.9 percent for local capacity). You can read a full excerpt of the sequestration section on the AASA Leading Edge Blog.
  • Sequestration Resources: Also on the AASA blog, you can find a link to sequestration resources, including AASA's Sequestration Toolkit, talking points, podcasts and more.

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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