School districts prepare for fiscal cliff cuts

School districts around the country are worrying over stalled negotiations to avert the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the month, which could result in the loss of more than 8 percent of their federal funding. Education advocates and  lobbyists, including for the two national teachers unions, are clamoring for a deal – specifically one that leaves the federal education budget intact.

Talks continued on Monday, and both sides seemed closer to an agreement. President Obama proposed a new counter offer to House Republicans, while Politico reported that House Speaker John Boehner was developing a Plan B that would raise taxes for some Americans. If the two parties are unable to come to an agreement by Jan. 1, though, a series of cuts will be triggered that include significant reductions to education spending. (The cuts wouldn’t have a large impact on many school districts until the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, however.)

The Hechinger Report reached out to districts around the country to find out what would happen to them if the cuts were to kick in. Here are some of their responses:

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, Texas (31,633 students, 88.96 percent of students economically disadvantaged):

 Our budget process for the 2012-13 school year begins in January. No decisions have been made yet on how we would adjust if the federal cutbacks occur. We have been assured that we will not be impacted until Sept. 1, 2013. Definitely, we would experience major cutbacks in staff and services. Many teacher aide and teacher positions would be lost. Class size would increase. Tutoring and other supplemental services would be impacted. Services for special needs students would be impacted as well as other federal programs. We will begin formulating our plan in January. It will be a several month process to develop our budgetary response to the cut backs.

Superintendent Daniel King

Flint Community Schools, Michigan (9,606 students, about 85 percent of students economically disadvantaged):

Flint Community Schools could lose about 8 percent of our federal grants, which total approximately $25 million annually. That would mean a loss of about $2 million. As a result, the district’s Office of State and Federal Grants has been instructed to budget accordingly, until the federal budget impasse is resolved. Program coordinators are to work as if their budgets were 8 percent smaller. There are no plans to cut any programs at this point.

-spokesperson Robert Campbell

Northshore School District, Washington (19,818 students, 17.6 percent of students economically disadvantaged):

Given Northshore’s demographics, we don’t rely as much on federal funding as many other districts. That said, our calculations are that sequestration would result in a loss of $500,000 in federal funding, with most of that impacting our Title and IDEA programs [which are federal programs for, respectively, low-income and special-needs students].  With respect to Title [dollars] this would mean reduced reading and math intervention services and reduced funding for professional development.  Our Title I funding is a major source of our intervention dollars, primarily aimed at closing achievement gaps.  As we work towards implementation of the Common Core Standards, the loss of staff [professional development] support will be a real challenge. As for IDEA, we are still legally required to provide the appropriate services to students with special needs.  Consequently, our ability to reduce programs or services in that area are more restricted.  The result could be losses/reductions in other areas to offset the IDEA funding losses.

– Superintendent Larry Francois

(Statements have been edited for length and clarity.)

POSTED BY ON December 18, 2012