Bleak outlook for education spending under sequestration


“We can’t solve federal spending problems on the backs of our kids,” said Phillip Lovell, vice president of federal advocacy for the Alliance for Excellent Education, during a webinar that examined the impending sequestration crisis.

“We’re facing very significant financial squeezes and limits, and even in the best-case scenario, it’s very unlikely to see any significant increases in federal funding for education in the next several years,” said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.

Over the past two years, education has seen roughly $1.5 billion in federal cuts that have reduced funding in nearly every area except Pell Grants, which retained their maximum $5,550 award in FY 2011 and FY 2012.

Packer said that Pell Grants are by far the biggest Education Department (ED) program, and that in the last few years, owing in part to the recession, many more people have applied for and received Pell Grants. The program now is facing very significant funding shortfalls, although it would be exempt from sequestration cuts.

Lawmakers have maintained Pell Grant funding largely by cutting or eliminating other parts of student aid, such as eliminating the interest subsidy for graduate student loans and eliminating the six-month grace period for undergraduates, eliminating the “summer” Pell Grant, and reducing the number of semesters a student can receive a Pell Grant to 12. But in FY 2014, the Pell Grant program faces a $7.8 billion shortfall, and 145,000 students have lost their Pell Grants this school year.

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Tom Shelton, superintendent of the Fayette County Schools in Kentucky, said sequestration will mean a 7.8-percent cut to his district’s programs, increased class sizes, and less access to after-school programs, early childhood education, and programs for children with specials needs.

Fayette County receives about $22 million in federal funding—roughly 5.3 percent of the district’s total budget.

If sequestration cuts occur, Shelton’s district could see $1.6 million slashed from its budget.

“It really puts us in a precarious situation,” he said. “These cuts are coming in the middle of the year. We’re looking at a real impact in the classroom.”

The district’s fastest growing population is English language learners, many of whom rely on federally-funded resources.

“We are simply not going to be able to meet the needs of those students, and it’s always difficult when you look at the students who have the greatest need and they’re the ones suffering from this,” Shelton said.

Laura Ascione

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