Sequestration Batters Schools On Military Bases And Native American Reservations

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"Sequestration Batters Schools On Military Bases And Native American Reservations"

Credit: The Associated Press

As sequestration went into effect in March, some lawmakers argued that the impact of the cuts would not be as immediate as had been claimed, as they would take place over a matter of years. But there are some areas that felt the impact immediately. One of those is schools on military bases or Native American reservations. Because schools on or near federal lands don’t collect as much in property and sales tax revenues as other public schools, Impact Aid from the federal government helps close that gap. Yet sequestration will reduce the $1.2 billion the government sends to these communities by more than $60 million.

Different schools have different funding structures, but some are dealing with the impact of reduced spending right now, according to the latest report from the Center for American Progress:

This past month we discussed sequestration’s effect on schoolchildren living on Naval Air Station Lemoore in California. Schools in that district rely on Impact Aid for 30 percent of their entire budget. As Heiko Sweeney, principal of the base’s Akers Elementary School, explained, “For us, Impact Aid is critical.” The students and staff of Akers Elementary School are not alone in this regard: Federal Impact Aid accounts for more than half the budget for the Dulce Independent School District in New Mexico. In Mascoutah, Illinois, Superintendent Todd Koehl is expecting a 20 percent reduction in Impact Aid this year. “State and federal dollars are some of our biggest revenues,” said Koehl. And according to Dawn Kirby, vice president of the Travis Unified School District in California, Impact Aid provides them with “a lot of money. … That money has to come from somewhere. A lot of our students come from military families.”

While some school systems might be able to rely on reserves to make up some of the shortfall resulting from Impact Aid cuts, others such as the Tomah School District in Wisconsin are not as fortunate. “The only thing left is to reduce salaries and benefits or eliminate programs,” said Greg Gaarder, the district’s business manager. “There are no tools left in the toolbox.”

On the Wind River Indian Reservation in Ethete, Wyoming, a loss of $1.7 million in Impact Aid to School District 14 means a cut of 11 percent of the district’s overall budget. Such a drastic cut in Impact Aid will only serve to make a bad situation worse on reservations across the country. Native Americans have the lowest educational attainment of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. “We are at the mercy of the federal government,” said an unnamed District 14 school official. According to Michelle Hoffman, superintendent of District 14, Impact Aid is critical in addressing a host of problems: “Poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse.” She continued, “We have two full-time nurses in our district, which the state model does not cover. We pay for that through Impact Aid.”

The U.S. already ranked 44th in the world in the percentage of GDP spent on education in 2009. Sequestration will reduce that amount even further.

This is not the only way that it will impact spending on education and children, however. Low-income children are already being kicked out of Head Start programs. In total, 70,000 are expected to lose access to Head Start, while 1.2 million disadvantaged students will see funds eliminated for their schools. Special education programs will lose $633 million and $157 million will be cut from federal student financial aid. Low-income families will also lose $115 million in child care subsidies.

Congress acted swiftly to undo cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration that resulted in flight delays but has not moved to undo these cuts to education programs. While some lawmakers have proposed giving agencies flexibility in implementing the cuts, most agencies don’t have the reserves or funds to blunt the impact.

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According to the Center for American Progress’s Senior Fellow Scott Lilly, there are nearly 150 schools in the country that receive more than $1 million in Impact Aid. Some of them could see aid cut by millions of dollars, with the Gallup-McKinley County Public Schools in New Mexico anticipating a $3 million cut to its budget.

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