Sequestration to take a toll on local schools, students

With President Obama and Congress having failed to reach a deal on Friday, March 1 to stave off across-the-board cuts to federal funding for domestic and defense programs, the Claremont Unified School District stands to lose $134,000 per year, according to CUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lisa Shoemaker.

The good news is that while most of the wide-scale cuts to federal programs, known as sequestration, go into effect immediately, education will have a grace period. Districts across the nation will have until July 1, 2013, the start of the new fiscal year, to figure out how to operate with a 5.9 percent reduction of federal funding for Title I, Title II and Title III programs as well as for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Nationally, sequester means a $1 billion reduction in IDEA funding alone, taking the federal contribution for special education programs back to where it was in 2005, according to a recent Minneapolis Post article titled “Most vulnerable students to get one-two punch under sequester.”

Because the Disabilities Education Act mandates that schools must provide assistance for the education of all children with disabilities, the district won’t be cutting any programs, despite the funding shortfall, Ms. Shoemaker notes. Assuming that sequester does, indeed, take effect in the area of education, CUSD will have to make up the missing 5.9 percent of federal funding, most likely by dipping into the general fund, she said.

Disabled students are not the only vulnerable group poised to feel the pain of budget cuts. Title 1 funding to be slashed is earmarked for socio-economically disadvantaged (SED) students, whose families are living below the poverty line. Local schools receiving Title 1 funding include Oakmont, Vista, Sumner and Mountain View elementary schools. The national school lunch program is notably exempt from sequestration.

Like special education students, the district’s SED students tend to lag behind their peers in academic achievement. One way the district attempts to narrow the achievement gap for kids in poverty is by using Title I funding to pay for additional classroom aides.

“With the reduction in that funding, we might only have money for aides but not supplies,” Ms. Shoemaker said.

Also on the chopping block are 6 percent of Title II funds aimed at professional development—used for preparing, training and recruiting high-quality teachers and principals—and Title III funds, which are devoted to the support of students with limited English proficiency, such as ESL (English as a Second Language) students.

President Obama has stated that he will continue to press congress to replace the automatic cuts, which he has called devastating, via more specific spending cuts as well as through tax hikes for the most wealthy Americans. CUSD administrators and staff are not holding their breaths, however, and are instead preparing for the looming cuts.

“At this point, if nothing changes by July—if congress doesn’t either solve the budget problem or figure out another way to do the cuts—we are subject to sequestration,” Ms. Shoemaker said. “I haven’t heard any discussion that education would be singled out as being exempt.”

—Sarah Torribio






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