While lawmakers in Washington, D.C., continue to haggle over plans to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” local lawmakers and school district officials are getting a view of what could be waiting for them at the bottom of that cliff.
If Congress does not come up with a plan to raise revenue, cut expenses or do both to reduce the federal deficit, a series of tax increases and spending cuts will go into effect on Jan. 1. If the country does go over the so-called cliff, then the majority of Americans will likely see their taxes increase and budgets for both defense and domestic programs slashed.
If that happens, federal education spending will be cut for the 2012-13 school and grant year by approximately $4.1 billion nationally, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Statewide, cuts to federal Title I and IDEA funds, which go to low-income students and special education students, could total $173.8 million, according to the state agency.
In Galveston County, the total cut from budgets of the nine school districts and four charter schools could be as much as $2.5 million, according an analysis by the education department.
The education agency has told schools to prepare and put money aside, said agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson.
“Save some money and look at what you can do without,” Culbertson said, in describing the message the agency has been sending to school districts as they look toward the fiscal cliff.
According to the agency’s study, Clear Creek school district, the county’s largest district with about 40,000 students, could lose almost $1.3 million. Dickinson school district could see a cut of about $417,880, and Galveston school district could lose out on about $98,000. Charter schools also would see cuts, with Odyssey Academy in Galveston possibly seeing a reduction in federal funds of almost $67,000, according to the education agency’s analysis.
The cuts represent less than 1 percent of the yearly budgets for most school districts.
But the cuts can still sting, said Elaina Polsen, spokeswoman for Clear Creek school district.
The funds are allocated based on the number of students receiving special services and those who qualify under the federal guidelines as being at risk, Polsen said.
A reduction in funding “could reduce the depth of intervention and support that the district has been able to previously provide to our students with greatest needs,” she said.
These federal funds go toward things such as paying the salaries of academic coaches who work with students who are struggling academically, they cover the cost of federally required professional development for teachers and required services districts must provide for students with special needs, among other things, said Tammy Dowdy, spokeswoman for the Dickinson school district.
“If the district were to lose some of this funding, the difference would have to be shifted to local funds and covered out of the district’s fund balance,” she said.
While the fiscal cliff is an issue for politicians in Washington to solve, state lawmakers are also paying attention.
State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, is on a state committee formed specifically to seek solutions, should Congress let the country go over the cliff.
The cuts to education funding are not going to make things easier for school districts that are already dealing with reduced state funding. “This is just an example of what could happen, and the state has to be prepared to respond where we can,” Eiland said in a news release.
Many school districts did not know the extent of the cuts until the committee met last week, Eiland said on Monday.
The committee will meet again in January to discuss how the state will deal with whatever cuts may be coming, he said.
Republic Congressman-Elect Randy Weber, who will replace Rep. Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, as the representative for 14th Congressional District, said the overall effect of going over the fiscal cliff would be debilitating.
“It’s time for Congress and the current administration to put the political football aside and get down to business,” he said.
At a glance
Galveston County’s nine school districts and four charter schools could see their Federal Title I and IDEA funding reduced by around $2.5 million if Congress does not deal with the looming “fiscal cliff,” according to an analysis by the Texas Education Agency. The cuts for each district or charter school are estimated by the education agency to be:
- Ambassadors Preparatory Academy — $32,217
- Clear Creek ISD — $1,260,130
- Dickinson ISD — $417,880
- Friendswood ISD — $141,061
- Galveston ISD — $97,789
- High Island ISD — $2,680
- Hitchcock ISD — $126,895
- La Marque ISD — $122,746
- Mainland Preparatory Academy — $7,299
- Odyssey Academy Inc. — $66,528
- Premier Learning Academy — $8,734
- Santa Fe ISD — $81,383
- Texas City ISD — $144,068