Central Texas school districts are bracing for the automatic federal spending cuts that were set in motion Friday.
The across-the-board cuts from sequestration will slash more than $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, with the cuts split evenly between defense and domestic programs, including education.
Those cuts would impact federally funded programs such as Title I and special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. According to the Washington-based National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, sequestration would slash about 5 percent of funding from nearly all federal education programs.
In Texas, the cuts may be even more damaging, coming on the heels of a $4 billion cut to state education funding passed by Texas lawmakers two years ago.
“The (sequestration) cuts are on top of the state funding cuts, which school districts are already dealing with right now,” said Ruben Longoria, assistant director of government relations for the Texas Association of School Boards. “Now they are going to have to look at how much more money they are going to have to trim off their budgets.”
While Longoria said most school districts would not see any cuts to their funding until the 2013-14 school year, schools that receive federal Impact Aid will likely take an immediate hit.
Impact Aid provides funds to make up for property tax revenue lost when a school district covers federal land, which include school districts located on or near military installations like Fort Hood. According to the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, about 1,400 or 10 percent of the nation’s public schools, would be “negatively impacted” by cuts to Impact Aid. That includes the Killeen Independent School District and the Copperas Cove Independent School District.
While other districts will not see some of the sequestration cuts until next school year, both Killeen and Cove face the prospect of losing millions in Impact Aid this school year. Killeen could lose an estimated $2.6 million, according to The Associated Press. Superintendent Joseph Burns said the Cove district could lose $1.4 million.
“Time is running out on federally impacted schools,” said John B. Forkenbrock, executive director of the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools. “If the sequester actually goes through, our schools will see an immediate impact right in the middle of this school year.”
Longoria said many districts in Texas will likely be forced to make up the funds they lose by cutting back on or eliminating services. Short of finding ways to offset the cuts, the only other way to stop sequestration from hitting districts like Killeen and Cove would be for federal lawmakers to end the gridlock and come up with a compromise.
“In short, it would take an act of Congress,” Longoria said.
The Gatesville Independent School District administration has yet to analyze the impact of federal budget cuts, said Business Manager Darrell Frazier, however, the effect is likely to be “pretty minimal.”
Gatesville budgets $100,000 in federal Impact Aid, Frazier said, “not near what Killeen and Cove get.”
He said Gatesville ISD receives about $1.6 million in federal revenue in a budget of more than $23 million. Most of the federal funding — about $1.25 million — is assistance for free/reduced lunches, Frazier said, and about half of the district’s 2,900 students qualify for the program.
Lampasas Independent School District officials also said the impact of sequestration will be minimal.
“From what we understand, we will lose 5 to 10 percent as a result of the sequestration, which is only a $5,000 to $10,000 loss,” said Wanda Bunting, director of accounting. “That’s not too bad considering we have a general operating budget of $25 million.”
Bunting said Lampasas ISD collected $110,000 in federal impact funds over the last two years. Title I and special education programs will be areas most likely to see lost funds.
“Until the Texas Education Agency passes down that information, it remains to be seen what the full impact will be,” Bunting said.