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.

Schools would really feel the hit next academic year. According to the National School Boards Association (NSBA), sequestration won’t automatically impact most schools’ 2012-2013 budgets, but for the 2013-2014 school year, the impact could be “profound.”

A U.S. Senate subcommittee warns that cuts would spell out layoffs for more than 46,000 employees nationwide, unless states or communities covered their salaries.

But many states and school districts may not be able to help. In an AASA survey published in July, state and local districts were asked if they’d have ability to soften the impact of sequestration. Some 90% of them said they didn’t – that their state would be unable to help absorb or offset the cuts.

“We love our public education here, but we feel like we’re under attack,” said Juandiego Wade of Virginia’s Charlottesville City Schools on the NSBA conference call. “We don’t have the resources to supplant those federal funds.”

Already out of reserves drained during recession years, states would have to respond by reducing teachers’ professional development, programs such as after-school and enrichment, and personnel, according to the survey. Also on the table: Deferring textbook and technology purchases and reducing extracurricular activities.

Some schools are bracing for impact.

A little more than half of the school districts that responded to the survey say that they have built some cuts into their 2013-2014 budgets to offset sequestration. A little less than half say they have not and plan to address the cuts when they happen.

Board member Jill Wynns of the San Francisco Unified School District says that California would lose $387 million in education funds in the first year alone of sequestration. And that’s on top of 20-24% cuts the state has already made to its education budget since the 2007-2008 school year.

“This is not saving money. It’s disinvesting in our future,” said Wynns.

Education advocates and organizations have launched massive efforts to put pressure on the president and Congress to prevent sequestration.

The National School Boards Association has reached out to Congress and raised awareness among its members, giving them steps they can take to help stop the cuts from happening.

The National PTA has a sequestration toolkit to provide its state and local units with information as well as templates for letters to Congress and media outlets to turn the pressure up on elected officials.

On the NSBA call, the Virginia school board member reflected on the recent elections and spending priorities.

“Our state saw a lot of campaign money spent here last month. I wish some of it could be spent now on education,” said Wade.

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Filed under: Fiscal cliff • Policy • Politics • School budgets • Sequestration
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Audrey

    Yes, education will be DRASTICALLY affected by this"fiscal cliff" thingy. Schools need the money that the government gives them to pay for textbooks and extracurricular activities that kids enjoy, and to pay for the teachers that they hire.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:15 am |
  2. Alicia

    I recently wrote an essay on how education affects the economy, and the truth is, lower college costs actually IMPROVE our economy, despite lower fees.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • Alicia

      More people go to someplace w/ lower costs than higher ones.

      November 30, 2012 at 1:08 am |

    Education is a tricky subject. On one hand, as another commenter pointed out, when you throw the image of kids and teachers in everyone's face, of course people get behind education. Yet others made good points. Based on what I hear from my friends who teach, particularly in inner city schools, the impression is the same- a large number of people who are not actual teachers are making more money than actual teachers, and apathy and laziness are just too common. I wish there was a magic pill to re-focus each staff person in each school system, aiming their efforts really and truly at the needs and betterment of children.

    Does anyone truly understand the long term effects of a poor education? Most likely not. Still, there is no doubt in my mind that the impacts could be severe and far-reaching. I hope that people smarter than me can solve this fiscal cliff problem somehow. While I realize many will be impacted any way you look at it, I hope it doesn't have to be the next generation of Americans.

    November 29, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  4. carabarber

    Reblogged this on 'Aikahi Elementary PTSA.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:25 am |
  5. bhiljacker

    The teachers vote themselves substantial pay raises every few years here in SWOhio. One I know went from $40lk to $45k in just 2 years! They have priced themselves out of education...and are now crying about pay freezes. I swear they are actually astrophysicists discovering new planets in the basement!..or geneticists curing cancer in the attic here in Springfield. The school boards pay consulting firms to map out their budgets for them and lie to the public while begging for more money when they know that there will be cuts in funding most years. I shouldn't even be paying school district taxes as I never had children!

    November 27, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  6. Zipwizard

    In any belt tightening, education is usually the first casualty. Then it's roads and infrastructure. But our bridges are Getting older in many states.

    If Obama's voters had pushed out the Tea Party this time...things could get done. As it is...most of this kicking the can will probably wait for 2014 when the DEMS take the House...because the GOP will still refuse to move on most of these issues.

    November 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  7. david

    So..........if the education system loses billions of dollars,US students might drop from 25th to 26th or 27th in the world in math and science scores. Is that about right? NO LOSS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 21, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  8. Profbam

    If the public schools get no money then they don't have to fill out piles of paper work. I don't think that the Federal dollars offset the costs of all of the required testing and reports. Teachers would have more time to actually teach.

    November 20, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Salvor Hardin

      Actually, all of that testing and paperwork (NCLB, etc) is federally mandated and has to continue by law. The money coming out of the budget will come from classrooms, support programs and extracurriculars.

      November 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  9. chris

    I really use to support the public school system. Today I can say I support the teachers and the classrooms. All else no way. Living in St. Louis it is well known that the public school system currently has 552 administrative management positions to operate just about the same number of kids as the archdiocese of st. louis does with only 12. And the archdiocese of st. louis is surpassing education success over the public system. The public school system is over bloated in administration who all get paid much better than our teachers, but when budgets fall short they use teachers and kids in the media and you never hear about all the middle management and administrative fat. To say the public does not care about education, teachers and kids is a gimmick and with more transparency I hope will end in the future such a ridiculous claim.

    Further the world of charitable giving only religion in America gets more dollars than education. In 2012 that topped 4.3 billion dollars! Lets find someone decent reporting out there and turn this discussion into where is the public school system spending it's money instead of trying to blame this on the publics lack of compassion for our teachers and kids. And to the teachers...stop going along with the story line..we'd have more respect for you if you stood up to your own system.

    November 20, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  10. mark

    Most school funds, come from the state!! The Fed makes lots of "unfunded mandates", the local and state popluation pick up the tab. In georgia, they have cut to the bone. Thirty four students in a chemistry class? thirty four in math, our we nuts!!! Next thing you know, everyone will be blaming the teacher for 34 in a classroom. I asked my county about the RTT teacher effectivness based pay!! I all in, but they don't know where the money will come from!!

    November 20, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  11. Oakspar77777

    This Federal cut to education will only affect the feds takeover of local (state level) education.

    For years, the feds have offered money with strings attached (NCLB, RTTT) and states have taken it and lowered their contributions to education dollar for dollar and spending that money elsewhere.

    If this happens, states will have to return to fully funding their own schools – and without the added level of government restrictions added on by the Bush/Obama administration.

    This will hurt in the short term as belts are tightened and states are squeezed across the board, but good for the long term health of education in the country.

    November 19, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  12. sally minehart

    The "cliff " discussed does not surprise me. As usual public education is not a top priority. When are politicians going to realize that charter schools and private schools will not be able to handle what public schools accomplish. Where do you think students who are kicked out of charter schools go? Certainly not private schools. They don't want children with any kind of learning difference. Lets get behind our public schools. The public school teachers are so very hard-working. They are underpaid and under praised. I consider them REAL heroes.

    November 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  13. Sonia

    This is the first time I will be blogging! This is jsut a phenomenon!I can't believe all the cutting they are planning on Education. The future of our country is suffering!.

    November 18, 2012 at 2:37 am |
  14. Jeff 17 year pe teacher and coach

    If school districts planned to eliminate all high school sports and used that money to avoid cuts in the classroom; the needed funds to continue athletics would become available.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  15. tim

    It is interesting that now the election is over every one still want there piece of the budget. The president and congress need to figure out how to eliminate the .40 cents borrowed for every dollar they spend plus reduce the 16 trillion in debet. The money will come from some where not including all the new pet project that still need to be funded like Obamacare. Wake up people

    November 15, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  16. Michael

    It is a crying shame that pork cannot be weeded out but education is always one of teh first targets. Apparently, politicians do not realize that this country's future lies with education. Otherwise, we will have to import our researchers, teachers, et al.

    November 15, 2012 at 12:28 pm |