Sequestration Won't Hit Schools Immediately

While the administration warns of sequestration's impact on education, most programs won't be affected this academic school year.
by | February 28, 2013

For full coverage of sequestration's impact on states and localities, click here.

As the Friday deadline approaches for Congress to either undo $1.2 trillion in scheduled budget cuts or start having to swallow them, many political figures are loudly warning of the impact they'll have on education funding.

In recent weeks, the White House warned of the big impact the automatic cuts that he and Congress approved in 2011 would have on students and school districts if they actually come to fruition.

"This is real people going away," Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said. "I have no ability to mitigate this and say it's going to be okay."

But while the Obama administration says big cuts will hit school districts "this year," the truth is that this school year, districts will likely be spared the brunt of the damage.

That's because for the most part, the major funding streams of federal money that flow to schools have already reached their destination. Funding for the current 2012-2013 school year was allocated in the 2012 fiscal year, which ended long ago. The sequestration cuts would impact the current fiscal year -- and thus, next academic year. That means for the most part, students won't feel the impact of the cuts until this fall, despite the rhetoric floating around Washington.

One notable exception is the Impact Aid program, which provides federal funding to school districts near big swaths of federal land like military bases. It stands to start suffering $69 million in cuts this school year.

The situation was outlined in a letter from the U.S. Department of Education to school districts last year.

Despite schools' initial luck, if sequestration happens, the cuts will eventually catch up to them. State and local governments face a loss of about 5.3 percent, or $2 billion, in the type of education grants they rely on, according to Federal Funds Information for States. Programs for disadvantaged students and special education are among the big areas where state and local governments rely on state money. The cuts could mean bigger class sizes and less access to things like summer school and after-school programming, according to the National School Boards Association.

But schools are in about as good a position as any other stakeholder that's worried about sequestration's impact. Because the cuts wouldn't manifest themselves for months, schools could avoid most of the damage altogether if Congress does wind up reaching a deal to avert the cuts. In other words, for educators worried about the impact of sequestration, the Friday deadline isn't particularly important.

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