It’s not yet clear what the deal to raise the federal debt ceiling portends for K- 12 students. Given that the deal calls for (1) a ten-year cap on federal spending, (2) a $7 billion reduction in fiscal 2012 spending and (3) $1.5 trillion more in cuts over the next 10 years as determined by a new congressional committee, funding for the Department of Education will be affected.
As Michele McNeil writes at EdWeek, all those cuts would mean a budget reduction of about 6.7 percent in most agencies or about $3 billion overall, according to the Committee for Education Funding. Writes McNeil:
In looking at the new cap on federal discretionary spending of $7 billion below current levels, the Committee for Education Funding points out the current levels already reflect $1.25 billion in education cuts imposed in the current-year budget battle that consumed Congress a few months ago.
“We fear that education programs will face multiple rounds of cuts under the initial reduction in appropriated funds proposed in the [debt reduction] bill and from the joint committee’s plan or from sequestration,” the committee wrote today in a letter to members of Congress.
U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., doesn’t think this looks good. In an Associated Press story, he forecasts that the spending cuts are “going to make life much more difficult for” for public schools. However, a spokeswoman for Miller couldn’t elaborate on exactly how schools would feel the effects, or what the magnitude or timing would be.
With fewer federal funds going to states, states will have to dip into their own budgets to fund K-12 education, “a huge fiscal responsibility,” McNeil writes.
One area that states rely on federal funding heavily for is special education: The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) mandates that all students with disabilities receive a “free and appropriate education.” The average cost of educating a student with a disability is higher than for the average student, due to a student with a disability needing (for instance) a smaller teacher-to-student ratio, services including speech therapy and occupational therapy, specialized teaching, specialized equipment and transportation to a school that may not be the student’s neighborhood school. School districts often look to the federal government to fund special education, which — under IDEA — they are mandated to provide.
With fewer dollars to educate all students, school districts — who’ve already had a very tough year, with K-12 budgets cut by $1.8 billion nationwide — have many more hard choices ahead of them. According to the Los Angeles Times, cuts to K-12 in the new fiscal year could reach $2.5 billion. In other words, there will be more teachers fired, more days cut from the academic calendar and more programs from pre-kindergarten to summer school to those for the gifted slashed. What this means for our nation’s children and our nation’s future is anybody’s educated guess.
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