Local Districts, Students Will Absorb the Impact If Congress Jumps Off the Fiscal Cliff
The fiscal cliff is looming over public education nationwide, and local districts may lose millions of dollars in federal school funding. Image credit: mrincredible / 123RF Stock Photo
If you missed our post earlier this week about how a leap off the fiscal cliff could affect public education in Kansas and Missouri, please click HERE.
Earlier this week, the KC Education Enterprise asked all 28 local districts about the impact sequestration would have on their budgets if the U.S. Congress decides to jump off the fiscal cliff. Representatives from half of the districts replied.
Of those 12, seven spoke out on behalf of students. The rest either referred me to their respective state boards of education or otherwise equivocated in their responses.
In defense of the equivocating districts, we did put them on the spot. The situation is entirely out of their control, depending on whether Congress — in U.S. Rep. Mitch McConnell’s words — decides to engage in “Thelma and Louise economics.” And if Congress does jump, no one is absolutely certain about what the dollar impact would be to the budgets of local districts, although Tom Harkin — chairman of the U.S. Senate subcommittee that appropriates federal funds for education — last summer did release a report estimating the fiscal impact on the states.
Among those speaking out on behalf of students, the spokesperson for Center School District on the Missouri side of the state line put it most cogently.
“The most educationally fragile students, those students with special needs and those students in poverty, would be affected the most because those are the programs funded by federal dollars,” Kelly Wachel told me. “Federal funds are designed to help the students with extra learning needs. And at our Early Childhood Center, it is 70% funded by Head Start, which is a federally funded program. Any sequestration of federal funds would have an immediate impact on early childhood education. Also, federal funds support our community’s social programs. Social programs like food banks, tutoring centers, LINC, etc. are our students’ safety nets. If sequestration occurs, these social programs that provide our kids’ access to safety nets would be affected. The impact goes beyond our schools, it affects our whole community.”
Spokespeople for the Blue Valley, Olathe and Spring Hill districts in Kansas as well as the North Kansas City and Platte County districts in Missouri also spoke out in defense of student services. The North Kansas City response even went into detail on the potential budgetary impact of sequestration.
A spokesperson for the De Soto district in Kansas mentioned student needs while also addressing the needs of teachers.
“We have teachers who need to be uplifted every day,” Alvie Cater said. “They have enough to focus on to maximize their efforts without having to worry about whether we will have financial support to take care of them day to day. In spite of the challenges, we will rise above to our job.”
The educational future of many vulnerable young people in the Kansas City area as well as the job prospects of some of their teachers depends on whether President Barack Obama and Republican members of the U.S. Congress can come to a compromise regarding taxation and sequestration of federal funds by the end of this year. These national leaders are scheduled to meet later today. And local administrators of public school districts will be listening closely to the news. This is news that will directly impact them, their students, their staff members and our entire metropolitan-area community.
As Kevin Gullett, the chief financial officer for a Kansas special education consortium, put it: “I remain hopeful that the fiscal cliff will be avoided at the federal level.”
Specific responses from area districts are as follows:
- Their spokesperson, Ashley Razak, referred us to Kevin Gullett, chief financial officer of their special education co-op, who is based in Leavenworth, which is outside the coverage area of the KC Education Enterprise. The school board there plans to address sequestration at their next board meeting scheduled for Monday, Nov. 19. “I remain hopeful that the fiscal cliff will be avoided at the federal level,” Gullett said.
- According to their spokesperson, Kristi McNerlin, “The Blue Valley School District is watching this development very closely. Even though the Blue Valley School District receives little federal funding when compared to other Kansas City metropolitan area school districts, any reduction in our revenue stream will impact our already tight budget and significant reductions could impact student programs.”
- According to their spokesperson, Alvie Cater, “We cannot speculate as to what may or may not happen regarding funding for public schools. Further, it would not be responsible of us to speculate as to what jobs and/or programs would be impacted in our school district by a reduction in federal/state funding.Obviously, any reduction in funding for our school district would require difficult decisions and strategic action. Every effort would be made to minimize the impact on students and teachers, maintain quality, while at the same time continuing to offer improvements. We have teachers who need to be uplifted every day. They have enough to focus on to maximize their efforts without having to worry about whether we will have financial support to take care of them day to day. In spite of the challenges, we will rise above to our job.”
- According to Olathe spokesperson Maggie Kolb: “At this point because these numbers are not concrete or finalized, it’s difficult for us to provide an answer as to how cuts could impact our district. We will be monitoring as this progresses. Over the past few years, the Olathe School District has cut more than $20 million due to budget shortfalls from the state. To have to make any additional cuts at this point would be very tough and we fear could have a negative impact on the classroom experience.”
- According to their spokesperson, Christine Splichal, “The Spring Hill School District, like many other school districts across the state and country, would be adversely affected by a loss of federal funding due to sequestration. Specifically, programs that are designed to support students who need extra help in math and reading would be the areas that would be most harmed by reductions in funding. As a district, we are monitoring the actions of Congress. If cuts do occur, the next steps for the district will be to determine the levels of reductions and then make decisions to minimize the impact on students.”
- According to spokesperson Kelly Wachel: “As you probably know, education is forward-funded, meaning if we experience a sequestration of federal funds, we wouldn’t likely feel the impact until 2013-2014. With that being said, most of the federal monies are used for staff, and mostly in Title 1 programs and SPED programs. The most educationally fragile students, those students with special needs and those students in poverty, would be affected the most because those are the programs funded by federal dollars. Federal funds are designed to help the students with extra learning needs. And at our Early Childhood Center, it is 70% funded by Head Start, which is a federally funded program. Any sequestration of federal funds would have an immediate impact on early childhood education. Also, federal funds support our community’s social programs. Social programs like food banks, tutoring centers, LINC, etc. are our students’ safety nets. If sequestration occurs, these social programs that provide our kids’ access to safety nets would be affected. The impact goes beyond our schools, it affects our whole community.”
- According to Superintendent John Lacy, “I do not have specific dollar amounts regarding the potential effect of Sequestration on District programs. DESE [Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] has not released any amounts as far as I can tell. If you go to the DESE websites there are several linked articles from various sources that might be useful.”
- According to spokesperson John Baccala, “Obviously, sequestration is a topic we are following with great interest. However, I would not want to speculate on what that would mean for the Hickman Mills C-1. Simply put, every year we have to make whatever funding we receive work and while cutting school budgets is never ideal, it is a reality more and more districts, including the C-1, must face. Ultimately, you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
- According to spokesperson Andre Riley, “The best answer we have at this moment is that we are still assessing what programs could be impacted and in what way. Once we know this, we will be in a much better position to answer your questions. We are actively working on that assessment.”
- According to their spokesperson, Janice Phelan: “Our district has received information about this and has been involved in planning. We would refer you to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education which is the agency that provides our district and others with this type of information and would have the most recent updates.”
North Kansas City
According to their spokesperson Mary Jo Burton:
The North Kansas City Schools Federal Fund allocation for the 2012-13 school year is:
Title 1 $2,953,061 (Supports instruction in schools with high free/reduced lunch counts)
Title II $469,001 (Professional Development for Teachers)
Title III – Imm $54,437 (Supports instruction for immigrants)
TIII – LEP $213,199 (Supports English language instruction for non-native speakers)
Perkins Grant $237,855 (Supports vocational education)
Special Education – Part B Entitlement $3,420,393 (Supports Special Ed Students)
Grand total $7,347,946
If there is a 8.2% across the board reduction, NKC Schools may be short $602,532, which will impact our programming for the 2013-14 school year. We will be forced to reduce our level of service within each program to the level of funding provided by the Federal Government. We cannot make up the difference from local funds as it would be considered “surplanting” and we would be out of compliance with Federal regulations.
- According to spokesperson Tina Zubeck, “If sequestration isn’t avoided it would result in more than an 8% cut in federal funds which provide about 4% of our district’s total revenue. Not much in total dollar amount (in relation to total budget) but the revenue streams directly serve specific programs so the impact would be substantial and shouldered by some of our poorest, most disadvantaged students.”
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