Advocacy Update: Sequester Cuts Hit Schools Hard

By Kelly D. Pollitt Communicator September 2013, Volume 37, Issue 1

By Kelly D. Pollitt
September 2013, Volume 37, Issue 1

September, which is back-to-school time, also marks Congress’s return to session after a six-week district work period. Lawmakers face a full agenda this fall, which unfortunately will not include any big movement in education, such as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Washington is instead focused on the next budget showdown, and the deliberations surrounding a national response to Bashar al-Assad’s actions in Syria. Education will stay a backburner issue for now as Republicans and Democrats wage battle on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget and the debt ceiling problem—just as principals begin to feel the deep effects of the first round of the sequester cuts Congress put into place in 2011.

The Budget Issues in Brief

Dramatic differences between Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate on budget priorities and spending levels for federal programs have reached a final impasse for the year. Congress has proved its inability to pass the FY 2014 annual appropriations bills to keep the government running and, more important, come to an agreement on ending the sequester cuts. Lawmakers must now work to pass a continuing resolution (CR) by the end of the month to keep the government running. Typically, CR measures are kept “clean,” meaning they simply fund all government operations at the current levels of funding with no “riders” or additional policy provisions.

Unfortunately, this process has been muddled by politics in the House, where Republicans are calling for a CR that defunds the Affordable Care Act, as well as an announcement made by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on the U.S. shortfall on borrowing authority under the nation’s $16.7-trillion debt limit. Recent analysis says that the Treasury will effectively run out of money sometime between October 18 and November 5 this year, and Congress must vote to raise the debt ceiling. Lawmakers must negotiate these top line issues and buy themselves time to come to an agreement before the deadlines at the end of September.

Schools Must Brace for Additional Sequester Cuts

Principals must take note of the most troubling aspect of this budget debate: the CR will lock in the second round of sequester cuts that equates to a pre-2008 level of discretionary spending as it is spelled out by the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in 2011. If Congress does not include a deal to eliminate the sequester cuts as part of the CR, additional cuts will be made to education programs including Title I, IDEA, and Head Start, among others.

Now that the 2013-2014 school year is underway, principals are feeling the effects of the first round of the sequester cuts. Anthony Strangeway, Indiana’s NAESP Federal Relations Coordinator and principal of Sugar Creek Elementary School in New Palestine, Indiana, reports that his school lost two fulltime staff this year due to the sequester cuts. The cuts to school-based staff had to be made as enrollment in the district was up over fifty percent in the district, which required opening a brand new school. The reading coach will now have to support three schools instead of the two in his district this year, and the remaining staff will be required to take a five day or more furlough.

The unfortunate reality is that these types of cuts to school budgets and programs will continue and become worse unless Congress comes to an agreement to end the sequester schedule of cuts. Unless there is agreement to end the cuts, another round of additional cuts will begin fifteen days after Congress adjourns for the year.

NAESP is “taking to the streets” and needs to hear about what is happening in your schools as a result of sequestration. What’s different in the 2013-2014 school year, now that the budget cuts at the federal level are in full effect? Share your experience here. Even better—use NAESP’s Legislative Action Center to tell your member of Congress about the reading coach, teachers, or other programs that had to be cut in your school.

Unless lawmakers understand the real-world impact of cuts to Title I, IDEA, and related federal education programs, the cuts will continue automatically in education over the coming years.

Kelly D. Pollitt is Associate Executive Director for Policy, Public Affairs, and Special Projects at NAESP.

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