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Congress Takes August Recess - Key Budget Issues Still Unresolved

disability-policy-capitol-hill-in-autumnCongress left Washington, D.C., for its traditional August work period in Members’ home districts and states, leaving significant issues in Washington unresolved. One of these issues is budget sequestration (i.e., automatic funding cuts).

On January 2, 2013, cuts in federal spending due to budget sequestration will take effect. Budget sequestration institutes uniform reductions in spending across nearly all federal programs of roughly the same amount. Certain programs like Medicare, Pell Grants, and child nutrition programs are exempt from sequestration, or have limits on the percentage of funding that can be reduced.

These cuts are mandated because Congress did not meet an earlier goal of reducing the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next nine years. Left unchecked, cuts of $110 billion in federal spending will happen each year, starting January 2 and continuing for the next 9 years. These cuts will be evenly divided between military spending and non-defense related spending, including education funding.

So while Congress isn’t required to act before January 2, the vast majority of Members of Congress, the President, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have all expressed concern about the impact of sequestration and, specifically, the nature of its across-the-board cuts. Budget battles in Washington, D.C., are often complex and overly political, but how Congress and the Administration decide to handle budget sequestration will have real impact on the schools your children attend, the teachers who provide them instruction, and the course offerings and services they receive.

Cuts could happen in two of the largest and most important programs for students with learning disabilities – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA – the nation’s special education law) and the Title I program (which provides funding for schools to provide educational services for disadvantaged children). IDEA and Title I could be cut by $1 billion and $1.3 billion respectively during the 2013-2014 school year. These are sizable cuts, but it is important to understand how these cuts could play out in your schools and with your children. (Read our earlier blog, “Federal Funding Cuts to Impact Individuals with Learning Disabilities” for more general information about sequestration.)

For IDEA, a reduction of $1 billion nationally would put even greater pressure on local budgets to pay for the cost of special education services. (See what these cuts mean for your state.) However, this additional pressure won’t just be felt by general education students and teachers. It’s very likely that students seeking special education services may experience delays in initial evaluations and reluctance to provide certain services. These cuts could make it harder for you to advocate for your children to get what they need to be successful in school.

A $1.3 billion reduction nationally for Title I would impact many of the efforts to close the gap in achievement between disadvantaged children and their peers. This reduction in funding could lead to school districts having to lay off teachers, reduce additional help provided to students who are behind academically, and curtail efforts to turn around struggling schools. Overall, these reductions in funding will take away a greater share of resources from schools with a high number of low-income students.

Congress returns from its August district work period on September 10. The focus then will be to pass a stop-gap funding measure to keep the government operating after October 1. Unfortunately, what isn’t likely to be addressed is budget sequestration, with attention only coming to this issue after the November elections.

Stay tuned for continued updates on this topic and how/ if Congress chooses to modify its impact.