AASA Advocacy Expert Sheds Light on Looming Federal Matters

AASA’s Noelle Ellerson, assistant director for policy analysis and advocacy, used her one-hour breakout session Saturday morning to give a general overview of the new year, the new Congress and AASA’s legislative priorities.

Though it is a new year and a new Congress, the fact remains that little of substance has been done to advance federal education policy, meaning that AASA’s legislative priorities remain much the same: IDEA full funding, the annual appropriations process and sequestration, ESEA reauthorization, and other topics including rural education, education technology and school nutrition.

Of the topics covered at the conference session in Los Angeles, the one looming largest and most immediate was sequestration. The across-the-board cuts to federal education funding are a mere six days away, set to take place March 1, absent Congressional action.

The cuts would apply to all federal K-12 education programs, including ESEA, IDEA, the Rural Education Achievement Program, Head Start and more. If your district receives a dollar from the U.S. Education Department, that program will receive a 5 percent cut. The cuts would apply to the federal dollars that would be in your 2013-14 school year budget.

The sequester stems from the Budget Control Act of 2011, which tasked a Congressional “Super Committee” with identifying $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years, ideally through a combination of spending cuts, revenue increases and mandatory program reforms.

When the Super Committee failed this task, it triggered sequestration, an across-the-board cut that saves $1.2 trillion over 10 years, but relies solely on spending cuts. The process of sequestration includes no revenue increases or mandatory program reform, and cuts all programs by a predetermined amount regardless of demand, cost or effectiveness.

Due to technical adjustments related to the fiscal cliff deal at the end of 2012 and emergency funds for Superstorm Sandy recovery, the depth of the sequestration cut is estimated to be 5.2 percent (down from the originally reported 8.2 percent).

Virtually all aspects of the federal budget are subject to the sequester.

AASA’s advocacy team has done extensive work to give members the information they need to fight the sequester. Over the past 18 months, AASA has maintained and updated its Sequestration Toolkit. The toolkit is a collection of resources and information, designed to provide school system leaders with what they need to know about the sequester, how they can use that information with their community, and how to relay the impact of the sequester on their district to their Congressional delegation.

The toolkit includes: a "How To" guide for how to use the invoice and letter template; a customizable invoice and cover letter (allowing superintendents to calculate the cuts and detail the impact), a sample opinion piece/editorial; a sample letter to the editor; and a FAQ. AASA members are encouraged to use the invoice and letter to communicate with their Congressional delegation, letting them know how the sequester would impact your district.

Though the sequester is very close and likely to become reality, there is still a small window of opportunity. The cuts for education won’t be felt until later this summer, and there is speculation that while the sequester will happen, Congress would take action to rescind the cuts. That is where AASA members come in.

Use the AASA toolkit and Excel invoice to calculate the cuts to your district as a result of the budget. Translate that dollar amount into the impact on your district for the 2013-14 school year: how many teaching positions do you have to eliminate? What academic programs will be eliminated/reduced?

Putting a face on the sequester is the best way to keep the pressure on Congress to solve this problem it created; use the reality of your district to highlight how damaging these cuts will be!

The full content of this presentation — along with all of the Advocacy Department’s national conference presentations — are available on the AASA Leading Edge Blog.

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