In Conversation With…features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a staff member of the Kentucky School Advocate.
This month’s conversation is with Deborah Rigsby, director of federal legislation in the National School Boards Association’s Federal Relations Department. The discussion focuses on federal budget sequestration and the effects of the cuts on K-12 education in Kentucky and elsewhere. This interview was conducted via email.
Q. What federal programs are being affected most by the sequestration cuts?
A. Almost all federal programs, including education, are affected by sequestration, which is imposing an across-the-board budget cut of 5 percent. However, school nutrition programs are among the list of exempt programs, which also includes the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Q. Please clarify the timeline for the cuts. Kentucky’s current fiscal year runs July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013. Yet some cuts are being made right now. What are these?
A. Sequestration began on March 1, 2013, causing across-the-board cuts for many areas of government spending, including “non-defense discretionary” spending which includes funding for Head Start and K-12 education programs. The timing of these cuts varies, depending on the program. For K-12 programs such as Title I grants for disadvantaged students and special education grants, the U.S. Department of Education has stated that the sequester will take funds from federal allocations that become available in July 2013 for the 2013-14 school year.
An exception to the cuts scheduled this July is the Impact Aid program. Cuts to Impact Aid began March 1, thereby affecting this school year. (Impact Aid funding goes to school districts that have nontaxable federal land and installations within their boundaries, such as military installations. For example, Impact Aid funding goes to districts that educate children who reside on federal property and whose parents are employed on federal property.)
For Head Start, the timing of the budget cuts depends on the start of the grant’s fiscal year. For example, if the grant’s fiscal year began since Oct. 1, 2012, that means FY2013 funds are being spent and that the 5 percent cut to the annual funding level must be realized in the remaining months of the current budget period. If the grant’s fiscal year began before Oct. 1, 2012, then the sequester would take funds from future grant awards. For more information, go to www.nhsa.org/news_and_advocacy/advocacy
and follow the link to “Sequestration Action Resources.”
Q. When will the next round of cuts take place and what is the amount, in percentage terms?
A. If another round of cuts occurs, this will depend upon the actions of Congress and the president. Currently, the Budget Control Act of 2011, in which sequestration was enacted, directs budget cuts of $1.2 trillion through Fiscal Year 2021. The manner in which the cuts are implemented is different in fiscal years 2014-2021, however. Instead of the across-the-board cuts to programs, future cuts would be realized through a downward adjustment of budget allocations for defense and non-defense programs, including education. Therefore, Congress and the president would determine the manner in which reductions are made to each program account through the appropriations process each year. Therefore, a specific percentage for future budget cuts cannot be determined at this time.
Currently, the House and Senate have adopted their own versions of a FY2014 budget resolution. The House budget resolution proposes to reduce federal expenditures by $4.6 trillion over the next 10 years and suggests streamlining K-12 programs. The Senate’s measure proposes to stop sequestration in FY2014 and also calls for $20 billion for school repairs and modernization. Hence, the possibility of future budget cuts largely depends upon any agreement on a final FY2014 budget and the annual appropriations process.
Q. I am wondering about the impact of sequestration on nonfederally funded programs. Services like those for special education must be provided by law. Do you see funds being shifted from academic or other programs to shore up special ed and others where cuts might be legally problematic?
A. There is the possibility that districts will have to redirect funding from other areas in order to fulfill federal mandates and requirements. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education has stated that “there is no change in maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements, supplement not supplant rules, hold-harmless requirements, or state or local reservations of funding for required activities.” When asked if there would be any flexibility on maintenance of effort for Title I grants, for example, the Department’s response is that, “MOE requires that an LEA (local education agency) maintain expenditures for education from state and local sources at not less than 90 percent of the prior-year level from one year to the next. This requirement does not depend on how much federal funding an LEA receives in a given year.”
Q. What patterns do you see emerging from states as they make, or prepare to make, cuts in education as a result of sequestration?
A. More than one-half of states have reduced per-pupil spending, according to data compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In addition, a number of states are also facing challenges such as pension shortfalls, rising Medicaid costs, and local revenue shortfalls because of property tax valuations. (See http://www.statebudgetcrisis.org/.) These and other issues impact state budget decisions for education. For example, the Report of the State Budget Crisis Task Force has noted that Medicaid recently surpassed K-12 education as the largest area of state spending when all funds, including federal funds, are considered; and Medicaid appears likely to continue to claim a growing share of state resources. During the deepest part of the recent fiscal crisis, states cut education aid, adjusted for inflation and enrollment growth, while Medicaid spending continued to grow.
Q. What will the effects be at the classroom level – what will parents and students notice most?
A. A number of school board members have indicated that sequestration’s budget cuts would mean increased class sizes and less access to programs for children with special needs, as well as summer school, college counselors, early childhood education and after-school programming. For example, one district noted that the budget cuts equate to “significantly fewer hours of specialized reading instruction for struggling readers.” Others have noted possible staff reductions and deferred maintenance and purchasing.
Q. What kinds of decisions will school board members be called on to make as a result of sequestration?
A. The following news reports provide an example of the kinds of decisions that school board members will be considering:
From Granite City, Ill.: $400,000 in sequestration cuts, along with a reduction in state aid and local tax revenue, has prompted the Granite City School district to lay off nine teachers and four district employees at the end of the year. The school board had already enacted cuts and the decision to eliminate the position of permanent substitute—a move which affects 12 teachers—was also made.
From Cincinnati: The Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency plans to handle approximately $1 million in sequestration cuts by dropping about 200 kids from its Head Start program, which has the potential to eliminate up to 20 teacher positions and affect 10 classrooms. Transportation services will also be reduced.
From Yermo, Calif.: The Silver Valley school district faces a half-million-dollar cut. The superintendent has stated that he may need to cut bus transportation, teacher training and school counselors.
Q. Will this situation create long-term or irreparable damage to the country’s education system?
A. The sequester will impact the ability of a number of districts’ flexibility to implement innovative programming or expand effective programs. Summer school and after-school programs face cuts in school districts, as well as professional development opportunities for teachers.
Q. What are you looking for down the road if sequestration continues?
A. Applying sequestration to education places a penny-wise, dollar-foolish limit on future economic growth by divesting in an essential requirement for workforce productivity. This affects college and career readiness for our students as well as American competitiveness in the global marketplace. The sequester will also affect local employment and community resources.
Q. What can Kentucky school board members do to help NSBA in this situation?
A. Continue to contact your members of Congress to urge their strong support for a budget in FY2014 that will mitigate the cuts to education affecting our students and communities. (Congressman Harold Rogers is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over the funding levels that are provided for education programs each year. Also, Senator Mitch McConnell is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.) Provide examples about programs that will be affected. Engage the media and build local coalitions with your businesses and community groups explaining the resources that will be affected because of sequestration and the impact it could have on student achievement. Local boards may consider adopting a resolution regarding sequestration and sharing it with members of Congress and the media. A sample resolution, press release, opinion editorial and other information is available online at www.nsba.org/stopsequestration. The list of school boards in Kentucky that have already passed resolutions is available on this webpage.