Fiscal Cliff: Poorest School Districts Stand To Lose The Most

By Joy Resmovits, Huffington Post Latino Voices

Juandiego Wade is worried.

As vice chair of the Charlottesville City School Board in Virginia, he’s responsible for the well-being of its 4,000 students. And if Congress doesn’t come up with a solution to upcoming automatic budget cuts soon, his students may feel the loss. “We’ve already been cut to the bone,” Wade said. So with the estimated reduction of $350,000 to his district’s budget, it’s hard to see what else can go before cutting teachers. Charlottesville may have to fire four teachers, special education programs, and help for delinquent students.

As the federal government faces what’s become known as the fiscal cliff, education advocates are lobbying, organizing and campaigning to protect their programs. On Wednesday, the National School Boards Association trotted out school board members, including Wade, on a conference call to make their case.

“Our state got a lot of attention during the last election. we got a lot of visits from all the politicians, a lot of money was spent,” Wade said. “We’re wishing some of that is spent now on education.”

Advocates said across-the-board cuts may threaten the entire network of supports for U.S. children, particularly those who live in poverty. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified before a Senate committee to warn against the cuts. “Essentially we’re just playing chicken with the lives of the American people,” he said at the time.

Now, as the reality of 7.8 percent cuts loom, lobbyists are stepping up their efforts — even as legislators warned that negotiations could be lengthy. “Sit back, this is going to take a while,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told The Hill, describing a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Three federal programs critical to education — Title I funds for poor students, state grants for special education and the Head Start public pre-school program — would lose $2.7 billion over 10 years, predicted a Senate report based on the Congressional Budget Office projection that sequestration would slash spending by 7.8 percent. As many as 15,000 teachers and aides may lose their jobs, and 10,000 special education workers may be laid off.

Deborah Rigsby, the National School Boards Association’s legislative director, put it in stark terms. “For every $1 million in federal aid that a school district receives, sequestration would cut $82,000, or more than one teacher,” Rigsby said. “These cuts to our schools would be devastating and of course would impact student achievement.”

Though federal spending accounts for about 8 percent of all education dollars, the U.S. contribution is larger in poorer areas. According to an analysis by the New America Foundation, large districts such as Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami-Dade rely on federal funding for more than 15 percent of their budgets. Milwaukee and Chicago use U.S. cash to sponsor more than one fifth of their schools’ costs.



This article was first published in Huffington Post Latino Voices.

Joy Resmovits is a Huffington Post education reporter. She most recently worked as a Fellow at the Jewish Daily Forward. Before that, she wrote for the Wall Street Journal’s Greater New York section. She has also contributed to the New York Daily News, Education Update, the Columbia Daily Spectator, and the St. Louis Beacon. She graduated from Barnard College.

[Photo by  DonkeyHotey]

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