Sequester threatens Title I, special ed


The national sequester could result in education funding cuts. These would most directly affect the Title I preschool and special education programs. Photo by Maddy Jones

The national sequester could result in education funding cuts. These would most directly affect the Title I preschool and special education programs. Photo by Maddy Jones
The national sequester could result in education funding cuts. These would most directly affect the Title I preschool and special education programs. Photo by Maddy Jones

For months, automatic across-the-board cuts were a looming threat, but now they are reality. Congress must come up with a new budget to reduce the impact of sequestration, which started March 1, 2013.

This sequestration was set up by the Budget Control Act of 2011, but went into effect after Congress’ failure to agree on a deficit reduction plan of $1.2 trillion over a decade. Last year, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 pushed the sequester back from its scheduled date of January 2, 2013 to the first of last month.
According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the United States Department of Education faced a loss of nearly $1.5 billion from its budget from the 2011 fiscal year, without considering the newly instated sequestration reductions. Education was “only two percent of total federal budget outlays,” according to their website, and therefore “not the cause of our deficit.”
Even if education funding is not to blame, the second deadline for sequestration has passed, and according to the NAESP, an estimated 5.1 percent reduction in educational funding is now necessary. This $2.6 billion cut in funding would require across-the-board reductions, including $740 million from Title I programs, $644 million from special education and $406 million from Head Start.
In Missouri, the jobs of 160 teachers and aides are now at risk, according to Furthermore, the state now faces a loss of approximately $11.9 million in primary and secondary education funding, including significant cuts to special education, word-study and Head Start programs.
Columbia’s public schools, however, may not feel these cuts, at least not this year. Though the sequester has officially been in effect for nearly three weeks, CPS Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said the school district has been able to postpone the loss of “just under $480,000 totally to our operating budget” into next year.
“All of the items paid for with those funds today are being absorbed into (not eliminated) the local funding of your budget,” Quinley said in an email interview. “What it means is that we will keep providing those things. I doesn’t mean other things get cut, but rather that new programs/improvements won’t get added as these become a priority to the system.”
Items that will not be added include Title I services at the elementary level, such as small group and one-on-one instruction in the areas of reading and math. In the 2015-2016 school year, however, the district may need to reduce the number of Title I teachers in elementary or preschool classrooms, Quinley said, but she is uncertain of whether these cuts will become necessary. Title I is “on the list” of potential reductions because these services are “supplemental,” Quinley said, meaning they happen “above and beyond” the “typical instruction” for elementary students.

“We have to provide those traditional teachers first,” Quinley said. “Thus, if we get into a need to reduce, we look first at Title to see if that makes sense or if it warrants keeping that and reducing something else that is less impacting at that point in time. … There will be no loss of services yet.”

Even if the sequester continues and financial burdens increase, some items, like those provided by special education, may never disappear, according to Lou Ann Tanner-Jones, special services director. Special education services “are dictated by the individual needs of students,” she said, and these needs are documented as Individualized Educational Plans, or IEPs.
“CPS is obligated to provide the required services,” Tanner-Jones said. “ If there is an impact to Special Education due to sequestration, local monies would need to be used to provide the legally required services to students with IEPs.”
At RBHS, even future reductions may be so low-impact that students could never even realize, principal Mark Maus said. Sequestration is vague partly because cuts start at the federal level, Maus said, so it takes “several steps” and lots of time to filter down to individual schools. The district is planning to find “little pieces we could trim from” first, Maus said. If the ‘extra fat’ runs out and additional reductions are still necessary, however, Maus said the trimming may shift to staff numbers, as it did six years ago. Right now, though, future reductions are unclear and may never happen at all. For next school year at least, sequestration matters little.
“I don’t think it’s going to impact Rock Bridge greatly,” Maus said. “I don’t even know if anyone will even feel the difference.”
By Nomin-Erdene Jagdagdorj