What the Sequester Means for Public Schools

Updated   May 30, 2016
What the Sequester Means for Public Schools
Now that the sequester is a reality for the U.S., we take a look at how spending cuts will impact public schools across the country.
Now that the sequester has officially gone into effect, many are wondering how spending cuts will impact the public school system across the country. While federal funding cuts would not take effect for any schools until the new school year begins in the fall, concerns are in the minds of educators, parents, students and community members now. In fact, some districts are already taking steps to make appropriate adjustments in case federal funding does not come as planned.
 
What is the Sequester?
 
The sequester is a series of budget cuts that were put into law by the Budget Control Act and signed by President Obama in August, 2011. The budget cuts were designed to provide incentive to Congress to find a solution to the country’s debt crisis. They were never meant to go into effect, but a stalemate in Congress has led to the implementation of the dreaded sequester.
 
The sequester impacts most aspects of current government spending, according to the Huffington Post. About $550 billion of the $1.2 trillion in cuts will be seen by the U.S. military and national security operations. The rest will be cut from domestic programs, including unemployment benefits, health care – and education. Due to the way the sequester was set up, some areas of federal funding will see no impact, such as Medicare, social security and money spent on wars.
 
The sequester took effect on March 1, at 11:59 p.m. Congress could still minimize the impact of the new law, by coming to an agreement on a different approach to balancing the budget. If that occurs, schools may not see the federal funding cuts that are currently looming. However, in light of the fact that Congress has had months and even years to come to that agreement, school districts must begin preparing for the worst in anticipation that the agreement won’t come on time – or at all.
 
Where Schools will Feel the Hit
 
The drop in federal funding will be felt differently by schools in different areas of the country. The primary purpose for federal funding in public schools is to provide much needed services for the poorest and most disadvantaged students in the country. Known as Title I funding, the money typically goes to support staff and education services for these students. Services for special needs students will also be impacted by the sequester.
 
For schools that don’t have a high percentage of poor students, the impact of the budget cuts may be minimal. However, schools that rely on Title I funding to serve a larger population of students could be hit hard when the new cuts become reality this fall. Students going to schools on Native American reservations or near military bases will also feel the hit. These schools frequently rely on federal funding in lieu of property taxes that are not collected in these areas.
 
Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated at National Public Radio that high poverty schools could lose as much as $725 million in Title I funding. At the same time, special education services could lose around $600 million.
 
D.C. Bracing for Sequester Effects
 
The District of Columbia is one area that could feel the impact of the sequester in profoundly negative ways, according to a report at NBC Washington. Washington D.C. gets $11 million from federal funding annually, which goes to provide services for special needs and poor children. While that only amounts to three percent of the total budget in Montgomery County, the percentage is high enough in Prince William County to be devastating to the school district.
 
“It’s terrible because my kids depend on that,” one parent told NBC Washington. “They give them lunch, and if I leave them for the evening, they give them food. This is really going to be a damper. They should try to cut somewhere else.”
 
Oklahoma Schools Anticipating Major Education Cuts
 
In Oklahoma, the sequester may have a serious impact on the current quality of education as well. News on 6 reports that the student population at Celia Clinton Elementary is almost all poor. Most of these students rely on federally-funded services like teaching assistants, tutors and smaller class sizes. The school is anticipating the cut of at least one and maybe two teaching assistants by fall if the sequester continues.
 
Jill Hendricks, manager of federal funding for Tulsa Public Schools, told News on 6 that if the full effects of the sequester are felt, the Tulsa school district could lose a significant amount of the $63 million the district currently receives in federal money. For Celia Clinton, that could total more than $250,000 each year.
 
Devastating for Reservations, Military Bases
 
The biggest education impact of the sequester will undoubtedly be seen on Native American reservations and military bases. The Washington Post reports that one school district on a Navajo reservation in Arizona is contemplating the closure of three out of seven schools next year. The superintendent for the Window Rock School District, Debbie Jackson-Dennison, told the Post that the district simply may not have any other avenues if federal funding is cut as anticipated.
 
There are around 1,600 schools on reservations and military bases currently. Those schools are already feeling the impact of the sequester, since a high percentage of their funding comes from the federal government. In areas like Killeen, Texas, where around 42,000 students attend school near the Fort Hood Army base, it is easy to see just how widespread effects of the sequester could be.
 
For now, the sequester stands, due to the inability of Congress to reach a budget-balancing agreement. Many educators across the country are hoping and praying that the situation changes quickly in Washington, before the situation has to change for the worse at public schools from coast to coast.

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