The Looming Threat of Sequestration for the Department of Education

By: Wiha Powell

On August 2, 2011,  President Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). The BCA contained a new agreement that states several measures on limiting the spending and decreasing the nation’s debt. It also created a Joint Committee of 12 Congressional Members that was charged with the task of reducing the deficit by $1.2-1.5 trillion over the next 10 fiscal years. However, if the Committee failed to reach a resolution, it will trigger a $1.2 trillion spending cut across the board both in defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Unfortunately, on November 21, 2011, the Committee announced their failure to reached an agreement.  Resulting in the automatic sequestration of federal funds, with the first round cuts taking place on January 2, 2013.

Since then there has been countless talk about the sequestration of the federal budget, which has become a hot button topic in Washington.  Sequestration is the term used by Congress in relation to the mandatory cutting of federal funds. It is the structural blocking of money that Congress authorized to various federal departments and their programs to spend. Basically, the funds will be sequestered (cut) from the various departments while essential programs will eventually be eliminated. The process of sequestering the federal budget has been used over the years as an invested part of the nation’s debt limitation law, which can be viewed as an act of punishment if the appointed budgetary super-committee is unable to come up with a resolution for cutting the nation’s deficit. However, with the upcoming election the loud buzz of ‘federal sequestration’ has become a more discreet and noiseless conversation among our leaders. Nevertheless, our political leaders have major decisions to make regarding taxes, spending and cuts after the November election.

The upcoming across the board cut of federal funds will be felt by every department and their programs, one such department in particular is the Department of Education where funding becomes available after January 2. As a result, an approximate 9.1% cut in FY13 will be inflicted on the Department, which is an estimated $4.1 billion. These cuts will affect major educational programs that are currently based on funding levels, such as ESEA Title I and II (Education for the Disadvantaged and School Improvement Program), Impact Aid, IDEA (Individual with Disability), and career, technical and adult education. To further complicate matters, the cut will take place in the middle of the fiscal year, October 1, 2012.  As a result, schools will be already spending FY13 funds before the cut and will be penny-pinching the reminding months. Every school and student in the nation, as well as the educator’s ability to serve students and disabled youths will be significantly impacted by these cuts. Furthermore, these cuts will cause a domino effect, making future educational cuts inevitable. Leading up to the elimination of essential programs and services for those who need it the most, many educators called on Congress to consider the potential impact of across the board cuts within the Department.

On July 23, 2012, the Department of Education released a memo to the Chief State School Officers announcing that K-12 programs will not be subjected by the across-the-board sequestration in middle of the 2012-2013 school year. While the announcement may be considered as a relief to many schools for the 2012-2013 school year, the news of sequestration is still looming in the near future. Moreover, this announcement by the Department of Education was made in hopes that Congress will make a decision to stop sequestration by January 2, 2013.

In hindsight, the full blow of sequestration and the damages will not be felt until the 2013-2014 school year, because federal funds have already being appropriated through grants made in July 2012, and will be provided to schools. However, future sequestration will be devastating to many educational programs and schools that are already struggling to do more with less. It is crucial that Congress act to avoid these astronomical cuts from occurring. However, there is no simple solution to avoid sequestration or such cuts from happening, because the US education system has become tainted with political interference, where procurement and decisions are made with eyes towards Washington. As a result, sequestration will end up being the disaster it threatens to be if our leaders continue to fail to become unbiased towards,  knowledgeable of,  and truly interested in the US education system.  Ultimately, this  will require a task force that has completely and absolutely divorced politics, and have the will and leadership the US education system has yet to see. Until then, business as usual, where it remains unclear whether Congress will come to an agreement to stop sequestration from occurring on January 2, 2013.

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