Sequestration hits poor, disabled
This from the Courier Journal:
The Jefferson County Public Schools district is scrambling to replace at least $6 million in federal “sequestration” cutbacks that will take effect this fall — mostly to programs that serve poor, disabled and preschool students.
Exact figures won’t be known until May, but projected 5 percent to 10 percent reductions to Title I funding for low-income students, special education, Head Start and other programs for the 2013-14 school year could threaten funding for nearly 300 teacher and staff positions and may require trimming programs, district officials said.
Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education member Linda Duncan. / David R. Lutman, Photojournalist
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Kevin Nix, director of early childhood education for JCPS, who has alerted schools of the potential loss of as many as 100 Head Start and state-funded preschool positions. “The possibility that we could reduce the numbers of children served ... is heartbreaking.”
School board member Linda Duncan predicted, “This will affect our neediest students. It’s going to handicap us. And with all this pressure from the state to close the gaps, it’s frustrating.”
Hoping to avert layoffsJCPS hopes to avoid layoffs by transferring affected staffers to different jobs or absorbing losses through retirements. District officials also are working to find budget savings or shift funds to help retain positions and limit program cuts, said district chief financial officer Cordelia Hardin.
Although still uncertain of the ultimate impact, district officials are telling principals to plan for further reductions in 2014-15.
“The state has told districts they should plan on 10 percent cuts every year for the next 10 years, but I would hope (Congress) would get the sequester issue worked out before that,” Hardin said.
Congress passed sequestration in 2011 to reduce the federal deficit by more than $1.2 trillion over 10 years. When it failed as intended to provoke Congress to agree on a budget reduction plan, sequestration took effect March 1.
It affects education funding allocated as of July 1.
In a letter last month to Gov. Steve Beshear, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Kentucky is projected to lose $31.8 million in “unfortunate and damaging” cuts in an array of federal programs. That includes $12.4 million in Title I poverty programs, $7.7 million in the Individuals with Disabilities Act programs and others such as supplemental education and work-study offerings.
Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s education commissioner, said the cuts would hamper the state’s efforts to prepare children for colleges and careers.
Early childhood impact“These cuts mean fewer children will receive early childhood education, special education services, academic and behavioral interventions, and academic/career counseling,” he said. “We will see reductions in teachers and teacher assistants, which will impact class size and support for children.”
The reduction in Title I funds, which pays for extra teachers, assistants and supplies for low-income students, amounts to $3.6 million next school year in Jefferson County, a 9.9 percent reduction. The statewide cut is the equivalent of 171 staffers serving more than 21,000 students in 46 schools, according to Duncan’s letter.
That will hit hard at schools with larger shares of disadvantaged or poor students, including those in Appalachian counties, said Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.
Duncan said the principal of one district middle school recently was told he’d be losing two Title I coordinators who help boost reading skills.
Teresa Meyer, principal of Louisville’s Engelhard Elementary, where 89 percent of students qualify for subsidized lunch, said she uses her Title I funds for a full-time reading coach for students, a kindergarten assistant and an intervention specialist to help struggling students catch up.
While the district will help find other sources to cover the lost funds for one year, she said, the uncertainty makes her nervous.
“You never know what’s ahead,” she said.
Despite special education funding cuts, the federal government still requires districts to maintain the current level of services, forcing them to raid reserves or make other general funding cuts, Hughes said.
Hardin said the district’s 18 “persistently low-performing” schools that are under state pressure to improve will remain a priority.
Head Start affectedThe National Education Association has estimated that Head Start will be cut in Kentucky by $6.4 million and in Indiana by $5.9 million, affecting nearly 1,000 students in each state. They said spending on early childhood care in Kentucky would drop by $2.1 million and in Indiana by $2.8 million.
Nix says that in Jefferson County, about 23 Head Start classes and 12 state preschool classes could be affected by staff reductions. The exact number of positions that will lose funding is expected to be clear in the next month, he said.
Nix said the reduction was especially unfortunate given the district’s recent push to try to expand preschool.
JCPS school board Chairwoman Diane Porter said the district’s challenge will be “how to sustain programs” so that none take “such a drastic hit.”