Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cuts in Federal Funding Looming

We are planning for a significant loss of up to 9 percent in federal funds for some 2013-14 school year programs if Congress allows doomsday budget cuts (known as sequestration) in January. Such programs as Title I (reading and math for high-poverty schools), Title III (English Language Learners), Perkins (career and technical education), and IDEA (special education) could be affected by across-the-board sequestration that Congress and President Obama approved two years ago. 

We have not yet estimated the actual financial impact on the school district if sequestration occurs, but we would have to come up with funds elsewhere to continue federally mandated services. Cuts will likely have to be made in other programs and staffing because funds to make up for the lost federal funds would need to come from state and local general fund revenue, which has been declining due to continuing cuts by Governor Snyder and Michigan's legislature that sent School Aid Fund monies to colleges and businesses. And because sequestration is a 10-year process, it potentially could have a negative impact on our district for several years to come. Services not mandated but paid for by federal Title funds to provide supplemental services to students who for a variety of reasons have fallen behind in their schooling, would simply have to be scaled back potentially leading to lower student achievement and less students fully prepared for college and career. 

Districts such as Godfrey-Lee providing educational services for low-income, minority, and English language learners require additional time and support for students if they are to compete with their peers attending school in more affluent or better-fund schools. At the same time, we are being mandated to make costly changes to our curriculum, textbooks, other teaching materials, and technology to support the switch from Michigan's curriculum standards to a set of national standards called the Common Core, complete with more comprehensive approaches to teaching and testing that require greater use of technology tools. Nobody is helping us pay for this transition that must be in place no later than the fall of 2014. However, Michigan's political leaders refuse to recognize this and prefer to send considerable tax dollars to more affluent districts (such as those in Oakland County that receive nearly $5,000 more per pupil from the state) or to support tax cuts for businesses, the same group that keeps whining for higher achievement and graduation levels.

All of this is occurring at the same time normal operational costs continue to rise and the need for compensatory support services for our students to achieve the state and federal mandate of college and career readiness are at an historical high. The district currently is wrestling with a $1.2 million deficit this year that will significantly cut into our dwindling fund balance (savings) and put us in a position of financial instability that may effect programs for years to come. While our goal is to reduce this deficit as much as possible and balance the budget by next fall, federal sequestration that likely will kick in this January threatens that plan and virtually ensures draconian cuts in 2013-14.

While we have wrestled with the state's continuing nearsightedness in cutting back school funding for nearly ten years now, these new federal cuts will likely be the tipping point that sees schools serving urban poor areas submit to bankruptcy and fold. The question will be do the people living in communities such as Godfrey-Lee care enough to stand up and say, "enough already?" I guess we'll find out pretty soon.