Schools warn of sequestration dangers
Last modified: Dec. 13
Ashe County Schools officials are warning of the effects the system could face if possible sequestration hits the district, including losing up to 8.2 percent of the district's federal funding.
"Right now, we're not entirely sure what's going to come out of this," said Superintendent of Ashe County Schools Travis Reeves. "Right now, we're looking ahead and preparing for the possibility of federal cuts."
Mandatory federal spending cuts first proposed in the Budget Control Act of 2011, better known as the "fiscal cliff", could mean the Ashe County School System could lose up to 8.2 percent of its federal funding if Washington lawmakers and the president can't reach an agreement on some mix of tax hikes and spending cuts before the end of December.
If an agreement cannot be reached, mandatory cuts to defense and domestic spending will begin in 2013, and run through 2021.
Cuts are projected to reach $1.2 trillion over that time span, with $109 billion in cuts forecast for 2013 alone, and are designed to be evenly split between defense and discretionary domestic spending, though cuts to war spending and most entitlements (including Social Security and Medicaid) are off limits.
“(Cuts) are intended to hit all affected programs equally, though the cuts to individual areas will range from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent (and 2 percent to Medicare providers),” according to the Washington Post's Suzy Khimm on Sept. 14. “The indiscriminate pain is meant to pressure legislators into making a deal to avoid the cuts.”
Essentially, no legislator in Washington has any discretion on what programs get cut. The across-the-board budget pain was designed to force lawmakers to reach an agreement before the end of 2012.
At present, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are still negotiating.
To voice their concern over mandatory cuts, the Ashe County Board of Education passed a "resolution to rescind sequestration," during its Dec. 3 meeting.
A symbolic gesture, the resolution was written by the National School Board Association with the ultimate aim of gathering support from local education boards across the country to warn federal leaders about the dangers of sequestration on education funding.
“We're talking about a potential loss of 8.2 percent, or more, of federal funding for the school system," said Reeves.
Affected programs would include Title I grants for disadvantaged students, students served by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), English Language Acquisition programs, and Career and Technical Education, according to Reeves.
"Ashe County Schools, as well as other public schools, would be impacted nationwide by an estimated $2.7 billion loss from three programs alone - Title I grants, IDEA special education state grants and Head Start - that serve a combined 30.7 million children," according to the resolution.
These cuts comes on top of more than $835 million in federal funding reductions for K-12 programs starting in 2011.
Reeves said he spoke with Senator Kay Hagan's representatives in West Jefferson this past summer and said, “(They) felt like some resolution would come," said Reeves. "That was this summer and we're still here."
After speaking with North Carolina Superintendent of Schools June Atkinson, and other superintendents earlier in December, including one in Washington, D.C., Reeves said, "there seems to be a lackadaisical approach in Washington," said Reeves. "A lot of people feel like some resolution is going to happen but they're just not sure when, that if it doesn't happen in January then it'll happen in June or July."
Reeves said an answer in June or July, though, fails to take into consideration the advance budgeting and planning the school system begins in March and April.
"Right now, if we know what's going to happen with the federal government before April, we'll be ok," said Reeves. "That's when we need to make our request to the Board of Commissioners."
Later than April, though, and the school system's planning becomes more difficult.
"When we're trying to protect these programs, we've got to have answers far in advance," said Reeves. "We're already starting to schedule students into CTE classes for next year."
As an example, if we've already scheduled 60 students into CTE classes for (2013/14) and we learn there is no funding for those classes, all of a sudden we have to reschedule those students," said Reeves.
In many cases, those students would be shifted into other classes that weren't preparing for them in advance.
"These kinds of decisions can have a cascading effect," said Reeves.
Assistant Superintendent of Ashe County School Phyllis Yates said she has concerns about federal Exceptional Children laws and funding.
"By law, we have to serve (EC) students," said Yates. "If we lose that funding, those students still must be served, and that funding would have to come from state and county sources. We really are talking lives and futures with these cuts."
For now, though, Ashe County Schools must simply wait on Washington.