Obama was holding out hope that as Americans start feeling the effects of the sequester—the term used for the automatic spending cuts—public pressure will force lawmakers back to the table. Wary that such fiscal fiascos could jeopardize the rest of his second-term agenda, Obama vowed in his weekly address to keep pushing reforms on immigration, preschool education, gun violence, and transportation.

But attention already was turning to the next major budget hurdles, with less than a month to negotiate a plan to fund the government beyond March 27 and a debt-ceiling clash coming in May.

Hopes that a measure to undo the spending cuts could be wrapped into a March deal to keep the government running dimmed March 1 when both Obama and House Speaker John Boehner said they’d prefer to keep the two issues separate.

“I’m hopeful that we won’t have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we’re dealing with the sequester at the same time,” Boehner said.

Reaction to lawmakers’ failure to reach a deal to avert deep cuts to education spending was swift and severe.

“Education now faces the largest cuts in history, and our nation’s families and schools are confronting the fact that curriculum supports and vital school and community programming for our highest-need students will decrease,” said National PTA President Betsy Landers in a statement. “Every single one of National PTA’s nearly 5 million members will suffer the consequences of this avoidable situation.”

In a report released Feb. 26 by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), U.S. school superintendents described what the cuts would look like in their districts. Nearly 400 respondents from 42 states paint a dreary picture.

“The blind cuts of sequestration, made regardless of program demand or effectiveness, represent poor, short-sighted policy,” said AASA executive director Daniel Domenech. “The cuts … will affect millions of students, classrooms, and teachers by increasing class sizes, reducing programs, and eliminating educator jobs.”

Among the report’s key findings:

• More than three quarters of respondents (78 percent) said their district would have to eliminate jobs as a result of the sequester. On average, school districts will have to eliminate between 3.7 and 4.8 instructional positions.

• The cuts will affect areas that most directly impact student learning, including the reduction of academic programs and professional development, personnel layoffs, increased class sizes, and the deferring of technology purchases.

• For the first time in the four years and 14 surveys AASA has administered to learn the impact of the recession on the nation’s schools, there was a significant increase in the percentage of respondents indicating that special education funding will take a hit.

“At a time where society demands more from schools and student learning,” commented one respondent from Wyoming, “this action would put all schools in direct sight for those that already discount schools and their efforts. We have a great opportunity to make the changes for improved student learning and … now we could face a huge stoppage of effort.”