Sequestration Cuts Harmful to Schools, Teachers, and Students
Sequestration, the automatic funding cuts to a whole host of government programs, has caused an undeniable and permanent impact on the education of our children, with possibly dire consequences for millions of school children across the country. This type of economic austerity may cause long-term problems in an already underfunded education system nationwide.
What impact is sequestration having on education?
Sequestration has made funding and planning school programs a challenge. The Hawaii Department of Education, for instance, has seen their funding lose $4.2 million dollars as a direct result of sequestration cuts. According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, the Hawaii DOE is plugging the holes temporarily through use of their own funds. And they're finding it crucial to do so, at least temporarily, since some of the missing federals dollars were used to subsidize programs that focus on disadvantaged and special-needs students. A permanent loss of federal dollars, however, may make the temporary fix unsustainable in the long run, according to Amy Kunz, Hawaii Department of Education chief financial officer and assistant superintendent.
"We're dependent on these funds, and if they all went away we'd be in big trouble," Kunz said. "The short-term impacts can be managed, but we could still be dealing with this (potential shutdown) 10 years down the road."
Funding for special-needs children has taken an especially hard hit as well due to sequestration cuts that forced a 5 percent cut in funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. With 6.5 million disabled children currently aided by the program, the cuts have been devastating.
Dire consequences for poor and vulnerable school districts
As Think Progress recently noted, some of the poorest school districts are facing the toughest decisions due to cuts to the federal Impact Aid Program, which subsidizes school districts with low tax revenues. Hundreds of schools affected by the budget cuts have been forced to take drastic measures to keep their doors open, with many laying off staff, slashing services, and delaying required maintenance and repairs. According to a recent report from the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, eight school districts have been forced to close or consolidate schools, fifty-four had to reduce programs, and many others cut staff and increased class sizes.
With dire consequences like these plaguing schools districts across the nation, many wonder about the unintended consequences of underfunding our nation's ability to educate future generations.
"For our nation to remain competitive internationally, we cannot manage our education system by sequester," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "As we work to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st century, it's absolutely unconscionable that we are disinvesting in some of our most vulnerable students including those from tribal and rural communities and military-connected children."
What can be done?
Several deals have been and are currently in the works, including a deal that would keep sequestration cuts on the table for an additional six months, but allow agencies some flexibility to target their spending cuts. But, would targeted budget cuts fix the problem? Not necessarily, according to Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.
"I'm not sure [Secretary Duncan] would actually do anything [differently]," said Packer to Education Week. "There really are just a few big programs. Theoretically, he could say, 'I'm not going to cut special education, but the money would have to come from someplace else'."
The final verdict on sequestration is still up in the air as the political debate over funding cuts continues. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently suggested that the tax code be assessed for waste, with the hopes that increased tax revenues could be diverted to the services that need them most.
"As we pursue a path of fair and balanced deficit reduction, it is crucial that we close wasteful tax loopholes, eliminate costs where it makes sense, and use some of the resources we free up to make targeted investments in a few key areas like manufacturing and education," Lew said.
"DOE Under Pressure from 'Gov't Shutdown,' Sequestration, Debt Limit," Alia Wong, Civil Beat, September 25, 2013, http://www.civilbeat.com/articles/2013/09/25/19984-doe-under-pressure-from-govt-shutdown-debt-limit-sequestration/
"Jack Lew Calls For Replacing Sequester With Other Spending Cuts," Huffington Post, October 24, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/24/jack-lew-sequester_n_4155873.html?utm_hp_ref=politics
"Poorest School Districts Hit By Second Round of Sequestration Cuts," Alan Pyke, Think Progress, October 21, 2013, http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/10/21/2811851/sequestration-impact-aid-schools/
"Senate Deal Would Leave K-12 Sequestration in Place," Alyson Klein, Education Week, October 16, 2013, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2013/10/tentative_deal_could_mean_chan.html
"Sequester cuts by Congress have hit special education students in Michigan," Michigan Radio, September 30, 2013, http://michiganradio.org/post/sequester-cuts-congress-have-hit-special-education-students-michigan
"Sequestration Cuts Lead To Bigger Classes, Shuttered Arts Programs In Schools," Joy Resmovits, Huffington Post, October 22, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/22/sequestration-cuts-school_n_4139358.html
"Should Arne Duncan Decide How to Distribute the Sequester Cuts?," Alyson Klein, Education Week, October 14, 2013, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2013/10/should_arne_duncan_decide_how_.html
"What's Next For Education in Congress," Alyson Klein, Education Week, September 9, 2013, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2013/09/whats_next_for_education_in_co.html