Are you overwhelmed by the incessant talk of the fiscal cliff? There seems to be a great deal of uncertainty, confusion and misinformation surrounding funding cuts for education. A popular number being thrown around is the $3 billion in cuts to programs funded by the department of education. Well, that’s part of it, but there are other cuts that further reduce education budgets as well.

VOCABULARY 180In this article, Jenny House explores the fiscal cliff and what it means for education. Below she presents the 3 most common myths she’s heard and tries to clear things up a bit for parents, educators and anyone else concerned about education funding cuts.

Let’s begin with a definition of budget sequestration. In the face of annual budget deficits, sequestration means automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to all federal agencies. This drastic step allows Congress to limit the size of the budget and gives it the right to make mandatory cuts if the cost of running the government exceeds the cap.

On March 1, we all watched as Congress was unable to come to an agreement on how to reduce the $16.5 trillion national debt. This triggered the mandatory sequestration procedures: 5 percent across-the-board cuts to federal programs and activities except for those that Congress identified as exempt (for example, Social Security and certain parts of the defense budget). Education will be cut by $2.5 billion in fiscal year 2013, and the cuts are scheduled to continue through 2021.

Based on what we know now, here are some of the myths–and corresponding truths–about how education will be impacted by sequestration.

MYTH No. 1: No cuts will take place in education until the 2013-2014 school year.

TRUTH: Actually, some cuts have already taken effect. The first districts hit are those receiving Impact Aid, which are districts that receive federal aid to make up for the shortage in property taxes due to the fact that they are located on or near Native American reservations or military bases.

Head Start programs have already had to slash 5 percent from their budgets, totaling about $401 million. Some programs are shutting down earlier in the day. Some may have to shut down for the summer, posing a big problem for poor, working parents.

MYTH No. 2: The only cuts impacting education are the $3 billion in cuts to programs funded by the Department of Education.

TRUTH: Many other agencies provide funding to education. One example is the money rural schools get from the US Forest Service, $15.6 million of which comes from the Secure Rural Schools Act, which provides funds for 4,400 schools located near national forests. The US Department of Agriculture distributed $323 million to 41 states in January. Now they must return $17.9 million under the sequestration requirements or it will be cut from future allotments. Many rural schools have come to depend on these funds for their operations.
MYTH No. 3: All programs will be cut so much that we will have no money for products, including technology.

TRUTH: Here are some of the predicted cuts, as reported by the Committee for Education Funding:

Title I: Sequestration will reduce the $14.7 billion program by nearly $727 million, potentially eliminating support to an estimated 2,700 schools serving 1.2 million disadvantaged students, while also putting at risk the jobs of approximately 10,000 teachers and aides serving these students.

IDEA (Special Education): This program will be cut by nearly $620 million. States and districts will have to cover the cost of approximately 7,200 teachers, aides, and other staff needed to implement a program that serves roughly 6.5 million special needs students.

Continue reading: 3 Totally Bogus Fiscal Cliff Myths You Only Think Are True

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