Surviving Sequester: AASA Economic Impact Survey

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AASA is pleased to release Surviving Sequester, Round One: Schools Detail Impact of Sequester Cuts. The survey, 15th in AASA's Economic Impact Series, details how school districts have responded to the start of their first school year operating under the deep cuts of sequestration.

The 2013-14 school year—already underway in some districts across the country—represents the first year that school operating budgets will include cuts in federal education funding stemming from the sequester (the automatic, across-the-board cuts stemming from Congressional law and inaction). As school districts across the nation kick off the 2013-2014 school year, school system leaders find themselves opening school house doors unable to provide the same educational offerings as last year. This survey reflects current budget realities for the nation’s schools, as reported by 541 survey respondents from 48 states earlier this summer. Top-line takeaways: 

  • The cuts of sequestration will translate into reductions in and eliminations to personnel, curriculum, facilities and operations. Respondents reported that the cuts of sequestration would mean reducing professional development (59 percent), eliminating personnel (53 percent), increasing class size (48 percent) and deferring technology purchases (46 percent). The bottom line is that schools and students continue to pay the price for failed federal spending policy.
  • State/local governments and school districts have very limited capacity to soften the cuts of sequestration. When asked if their state or local school districts have the ability to soften the impact of sequestration, nearly all respondents replied “No.” Eighty-five percent replied that their state would be unable to absorb or offset the cuts of sequestration, virtually identical to the 86 percent indicating that their district would be unable to absorb the cuts.
  • More than half (53 percent) of respondents reported that their budgets for the 2013-14 school year built-in cuts to offset sequestration. School administrators report a variety of approaches in planning for sequestration. The annual process of adopting school budgets wrapped up in May, meaning survey respondents were able to indicate how/if their district budget offset the anticipated cuts of sequestration.
  • Bound by the responsibility to pass on-time balanced budgets, superintendents described efforts to offset cuts in 2013-14, but expressed concern about additional sequester cuts in the future. Through this series of surveys, AASA has documented that budget cuts started at the areas that least directly impact student learning. As further cuts became necessary, school leaders found themselves having to make cuts to areas that most directly affected student learning (teacher jobs). While some states and schools have started to recover from these recession-era cuts—and could offset the impact of the sequester—the reality is that sequestration can reverse this positive economic stability.

“Back-to-school is an exciting time for AASA members. Superintendents love the start of a new school year, welcoming back staff and students,” said Dan Domenech, AASA executive director. “Cuts from the sequester are dampening back-to-school excitement as school systems open their doors, having adjusted their overall budgets to reflect decreased federal investment. School district budgets have just started to stabilize and trend toward pre-recession levels.”

“The cuts of sequestration threaten to undermine not just educational opportunities for students, but also the very fragile economic recovery starting to take hold at the state and local levels,” added Domenech. 

“One of the best-kept secrets of sequestration is how the allegedly ‘across-the-board’ nature of sequestration is anything but ‘across the board’ for our nation’s schools,” said Bruce Hunter, AASA associate executive director, advocacy, policy and communications. “The share of federal dollars in overall operating school budgets varies district-by-district. While all will feel a 5 percent cut from the sequester, that cut will be much deeper in some districts.”

“Higher-poverty districts generally have a larger share of their funding coming from the federal level. Sequester cuts will disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable students in the most vulnerable districts,” added Hunter.



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