The most vulnerable schoolchildren in the country are seeing their teachers get laid off and their school facilities slip further into disrepair thanks to Congress’ ongoing failure to reverse sequestration cuts to the federal Impact Aid program, according to a survey released Monday by the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS).
Less than eight months after having to scramble to absorb the first round of sequestration cuts in March, the NAFIS report gives a snapshot of how the second round of sequestration cuts is playing out in the 1,300 school districts that rely on federal Impact Aid to compensate for low tax revenues. Hundreds of schools are slashing services, laying off staff, and canceling badly needed maintenance projects for the current school year. Of the 298 school that chose to respond to the organization’s non-scientific survey, 144 are putting off maintenance or other purchases, 112 are laying off support staff, 96 are laying off teachers, 102 are increasing class sizes, 46 are eliminating extracurricular activities, and eight have outright closed schools. Six of the eight districts that have closed schools are on Indian lands, NAFIS reports.
Impact Aid schools have it tough in normal circumstances. The program funds K-12 education in “school districts financially impacted by the presence of the Federal Government, either through the removal of taxable property…or through the costs of enrolling federally connected children (i.e. military-dependents, students living on Indian trust land, etc.),” NAFIS explains. The 5 percent across-the-board cuts from sequestration lopped $60 million off the Impact Aid budget, leading to layoffs, cuts to class offerings and after-school programs, and delayed or canceled purchases of classroom materials right away in 2013. Whereas most programs were able to plan out their sequestration cuts for the coming fiscal year, Impact Aid is “the only major federal K-12 education program that is current-year funded,” NAFIS reports. That idiosyncrasy meant the poorest school districts had to absorb sequestration cuts immediately. Then the government shut down, causing some Impact Aid schools to incur new costs by forcing them to take out private loans to cover spending that would normally come from Washington.
As sequestration continues, Impact Aid and other very small government expenditures targeted at society’s most vulnerable are struggling to operate as intended. Congress has found time to exempt business travelers and other noisy constituencies from the cuts, but 57,000 poor kids on Head Start, the elderly dependent on Meals on Wheels, scientific researchers, the homeless, the working poor, and domestic violence victims have not been so lucky.