'Fiscal cliff': With cuts of $4 billion looming, educators sound alarm
If the US goes over the fiscal cliff, schools might see larger class sizes, fewer jobs, and less special-education funding, among other things. But not everyone sees a sky-is-falling scenario.
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Because the districts with more low-income children rely more heavily on federal education dollars, the across-the-board sequestration cuts “would make the gap wider between the haves and the have-nots,” says Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).Skip to next paragraph
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About 57 percent of districts say they’d have to cut jobs, and 55 to 70 percent would have to increase class sizes, cut academic programs, and trim staff development if dealing with the federal cuts, according to an AASA survey earlier this year.
One administrator from Georgia noted in the AASA survey that at stake is a six-year effort in that person’s district to narrow achievement gaps and bring graduation rates up 35 percent among students who are mostly low-income. “Our students and teachers are beginning to believe we can achieve at a high level; however, my greatest fear is that with these additional funding cuts our supports will disappear,” wrote the administrator, who was not named. “It will take more time and consistent resources to break the generational cycle of poverty and low academic expectations in our community.”
California would take a particularly big hit, said Jill Wynns, president of the California School Boards Association, in the NSBA’s press call Wednesday. In a state where 1 out of 8 US public-school students live, she noted, more than 20 percent of state support has been cut since 2007-08, causing districts to scale back programs for the highest-need students.
“If sequestration occurs, our state will lose $387 million.... So federal cuts ... on top of that will just devastate these programs,” she said.
Ms. Wynns urged people to realize that “this is not abstract” but affects individual children. The budget cuts wouldn’t be saving money, she said, but “disinvesting in our future.”
“I strongly suspect that education will come out fine,” says Mr. Petrilli of Fordham. Even Republicans “are loath to cut it because they know it’s popular,” he says.
But Mr. Domenech of AASA says assurances that sequestration “is not going to happen” aren’t very comforting until something concrete is announced. If lawmakers simply cobble together a temporary solution – say, averting the cuts for a year – “the issue will still be hanging over everybody’s head,” he says.