November 29th, 2012
01:55 PM ET

How education could plunge off the 'fiscal cliff'

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) Sequestration: The word strikes fear in the hearts of school boards and administrators nationwide, and with good reason.

What does it mean? The term refers to the across-the-board budget cuts that will automatically occur in federal programs in January 2013, unless Congress reaches an agreement by the end of this year on reducing the deficit.

What kind of cuts will this mean for education?

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) estimates the reductions would amount to over $4 billion. That would plunge education funding into pre-2003 levels, according to the National Education Association.

Why is that so scary? Part of the reason is that America’s schools have added 5.4 million new students to their rolls since 2003, and costs have risen about 25%. Budget cuts triggered by the fiscal cliff could potentially affect millions of students and teachers by reducing programs and services and increasing class sizes.

According to Deborah Rigsby, director of federal legislation for the National School Boards Association, if sequestration happens, each school district could lose more than $300,000 for every 5,000 children enrolled.

“Sequestration would hurt our school districts and ultimately, our students,” said Rigsby on a conference call Wednesday.

Not all of the effects would be immediate, although some federal programs, such as Title I, Head Start, and state special education funding would feel the impact of the cuts right away. Schools that receive Impact Aid funding would also experience immediate cuts.
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Filed under: Fiscal cliff • Policy • Politics • School budgets • Sequestration