DC Shuttle: Sequestration Would Bring Larger Classes, Fewer Offerings, Four-Day Weeks, Teacher Layoffs and More (Or Less)

Sequestration on education. Sequestration remains the greatest concern for education funding in the immediate future. State school board leaders went on the offensive last week to highlight the threat to education. Education funding has not been the focus of fiscal cliff discussions and is largely swept into the larger picture when discussing sequestration. The administration estimates an 8% to 9% cut across the board if sequestration goes into effect, which would mean a $4 billion reduction in education spending. Deborah Rigsby of the National School Board Association said that public education systems would be forced into larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, four-day school weeks, fewer extracurricular activities, less access to intervention programs and teacher layoffs. Schools do not function on the federal fiscal calendar, allowing them to defer cuts to programs until the 2013-14 school year, but officials say they are already planning for those budgets and 2013 funding will affect their schools. A July report by the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said that sequestration would mean a $2.7 billion cut in federal funding in FY2013 for Title I grants for low-income school districts, special education state grants and Head Start.  

Few education initiatives likely as administration defends policy. The reelection of President Obama has education enthusiasts buzzing about the outlook for the next four years, but insiders think education policy might be in for lurching progress in Obama’s second term in office. The most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was No Child Left Behind (NCLB) under President Bush, and schools have fallen way off those standards. An aide to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pointed out that those standards were not intended to last 10 years and ESEA was overdue for reauthorization. The Obama administration has been unable to find consensus on reauthorization and instead has chosen a path that allows the administration to influence new standards without congressionally approved reauthorization. The Department of Education (DOE), under Obama, has approved waivers to states that proposed alternative standards. The waivers excuse those states from the standards of NCLB, but only if new standards are found satisfactory to the federal government. The DOE has encouraged the adoption of common core standards although other standards have met approval. While this approach first seemed temporarily necessary to address encroaching deadlines, it has become the totality of the administration’s approach during the first term. It is now possible that these waivers and deadlines could dominate education policy debate during Obama’s second term. Many lawmakers are calling for the reauthorization of ESEA and had hopes that could happen in Obama’s second term. For now, the administration will need to focus on defending the changes it has already made, and on the looming deadlines it approved for states. It will also have its hands full working for continued to support of federal financial aid and research funding during a time of budget cuts. A recent American Enterprise Institute forum gave a gloomy forecast for progress. A recent article by Inside Higher Ed was similarly pessimistic.

As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of Nov. 19, 2012.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.



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