Should automatic spending cuts, or sequestration, set to take place in January occur, it could have a dramatic impact on the availability of federal grant funds for education.
Three federal programs — Title I funds for poor students, state grants for special education and the Head Start public pre-school program — would lose $2.7 billion over 10 years, according to a report by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees nonmilitary spending.
“It could potentially have some pretty important ramifications if sequestration goes through,” said Deborah Ward, a national grants consultant and writer for ESchool News. “If grant-funded programs are eliminated completely, or if funding is cut back, school districts dependent on those particular grant programs will have to put some sort of a back-up plan into place.”
Franklin City Schools’ Title I and special education programs would be dramatically impacted by sequestration, said Assistant Superintendent Debbie Mears.
“Sequestration would have a catastrophic effect on our district if cuts are made in federal funding, especially for Title I and IDEA 6B, without providing relief from the laws and mandates that come along with the funds,” Mears said.
Part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA-B ensures assistance for education of all children with disabilities.
“This would mean that drastic shifts in expenditures would take place to supplant the lost funding, thereby causing our regular education and gifted students to once again suffer the loss of what few educational opportunities they currently have available,” Mears said.
Franklin received $646,916.73 in Title I funds and $623,657.52 in IDEA-B funding last year, according to Mears.
Madison Local Schools treasurer Brian Rabe said his district has no contingency plan at this time for sequestration.
“Looking at our total revenues from last year, 5.35 percent ($892,754) came from federal funds,” he said. “As for total expenditures, 5.21 percent ($867,724) came from federal funds. From what I have seen, this only relates to Title I funds and it is a percentage of those funds that would be cut, not the whole allocation. So as for right now it is hard to say what that number would be.”
Rabe said 1.74 percent of Madison’s revenues ($290,505), and 1.75 percent of its expenditures ($291,620) were accounted for through Title I funds.
A cut in grant funding could be especially devastating for a school district in fiscal emergency. Monroe Local Schools is digging out of a $2.2 million operating budget deficit and a bond retirement debt of $3.1 million.
The district takes in slightly over $1 million in federal grant money each year, which includes $233,568 in Title I funding and $374,880 for special education.
“We will make plans once we have firm numbers,” Monroe treasurer Holly Cahall said in an email. “Right now it seems there is only speculation. Nothing has been issued to show what those numbers are and how they will impact our district.”
Ward says districts should start planning for the possibility of vastly reduced grant money now, but they don’t necessarily have to hit the panic button, either.
“… I hope (the potential for sequestration) is on the local district’s radar screens. If this happens in the early part of next year, school districts will need to do some planning in order to find ways to save their programs,” she said.
Officials from the Middletown and Carlisle school districts did not respond for comment.