AASA: 1 in 4 students at LEAs that depend on federal funds
(Va.) New research showing the growing role federal funds play in local school budgets also puts a spotlight on the pending sequestration cuts and the ongoing partisan gridlock that still rules Congress.
More than one-quarter of schools – 25.2 percent – had operating budgets in 2011 in which federal revenues represented more than 15 percent of total revenues, according to a new study from the American Association of School Administrators.
Local educational agencies in 12 states had an average share of federal funds of 17 percent or higher. Three states had an average federal share at the local level that exceeded 20 percent: Arkansas at 21.1 percent; South Dakota at 22.6 percent; and Mississippi at 24.8 percent.
The report, released Thursday, noted that the federal government has traditionally supported only a small part of education spending – historically about 8.5 percent. But today, the national average for a local educational agency is up to nearly 12 percent.
Thus, the AASA report noted, the across-the-board cuts threatened in the looming sequestration will have dramatic impacts on the nation’s schools – especially those serving at-risk students.
“If our country is serious about successfully competing in a 21st century global economy and bringing down unemployment rates, we need to focus on and prioritize investing in education,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director, AASA, in a statement. “The findings in this report illustrate the importance of funding key federal education programs, such as Title I and IDEA.”
Although lawmakers ended a 16-day federal shutdown in October and averted a credit default – the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration remain in force.
Already $1.5 billion has been removed from the federal education budget but the sequester cuts another $2.4 billion from education programs, not including $401 million from Head Start, according to ASSA.
A congressional budget conference committee had been convened to consider spending options. The existing agreement in place allows the federal government to operate until Jan. 15 – but the committee’s deadline is a month sooner, Dec. 13.
So far, negotiators appear to be a long way from a compromise.
That’s bad news for many of the nation’s schools. According to the AASA analysis, one out of every four students is enrolled in districts that receive at least 15 percent of its revenue from the federal government:
“It is imperative that Congress works to resolve sequestration through a blended combination of revenue increases, spending cuts and mandatory program reform,” AASA said. “Continued inaction by Congress to resolve sequestration, to complete annual appropriations and to reconcile differences between House and Senate budget proposals means that the nation’s public schools are funded at pre-2004 levels – at a time when they are educating an additional five million-plus students.
“Congress must address these draconian realities if it is serious about avoiding yet another threat of shutdown/fiscal cliff and directing the country down a sustainable long-term approach to fiscal stability and growth,” AASA said.