Sequestration will trigger huge education spending cuts: across-the-board cuts of more than 8 percent to federal programs.

As schools face ever-increasing budget dilemmas, education stakeholders are desperately hoping to avoid sequestration, or across-the-board cuts, to domestic spending next year—cuts that could devastate education programs and affect many of the country’s neediest students, experts say.

To avoid a government shutdown in 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which increased the national debt ceiling in exchange for a major reduction to federal deficits. Congress set limits to federal spending for 10 years and created a “supercommittee” tasked with creating legislation to reduce the deficit.

The Budget Control Act stipulates that if $1.2 trillion in savings is not approved, across-the-board cuts will go into effect in January 2013.

The so-called “Bush-era tax cuts” expire at the same time, and the timing is no coincidence—scheduling across-the-board cuts, which include defense cuts, at the same time as the Bush-era tax cuts expire was supposed to ensure that lawmakers had an incentive to come together and work toward a budget solution.

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So far, Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach an agreement. Democrats have insisted on a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines budget cuts with revenue increases by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest Americans (those making more than $250,000 per year would see their tax rate rise from 35 percent to about 39 percent, the same as under President Clinton). Republicans have refused to consider any scenario in which taxes increase.

Lawmakers’ failure to reach an agreement will trigger sequestration cuts; 50 percent of those cuts will come from defense spending, and 50 percent from non-defense spending. Those cuts will begin on Jan. 2, 2013. Aside from Impact Aid, education is forward-funded, so cuts to education funding would not actually begin until July 2013.

But once those cuts start, education will see its largest cut ever, at about 8.2 percent. Title I would lose an estimated $1.2 billion, IDEA would see a $973 million cut, and Head Start funding would lose $669 million under this scenario.