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School districts hang on fiscal cliff
Dec 26, 2012 4:00 pm
As the U.S. balances on the edge of a fiscal cliff, school districts throughout the country wait to learn their financial fates.
In a recent conference call, David Pickler, unified Shelby County school board member and president-elect of the National School Boards Association, and other educational leaders discussed the potential repercussions of the fiscal cliff.
According to the group, Tennessee faces more than $61 million in cuts to K-12 programs on an annual basis.
The group said the projected 8.2 percent to 10 percent in reductions in Title I and other federal funds would continue over a 10-year period, rolling back dramatic advances made in education. Effects could include larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, a four-day school week, fewer extracurricular activities, less access to intervention programs and a smaller teaching corps.
School districts have no funding sources to fall back on, the group agreed. Private foundations and local taxpayers may be willing to pay more for new programs or one-time projects, but not to maintain the status quo.
Wilson County schools are in a better position than many other districts.
“We don’t have a large amount of federal funding in our budget, primarily Title 1 and special education and then some food service money,” said Mike Davis, director of Wilson County schools.
Title 1 funding is tied to the district’s poverty level, which is calculated by the number of students that qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches. In Wilson County, about 28 percent of the district’s population meets that criteria, according to Davis.
About 14 percent of the student population is classified as having special needs.
“We really have not received any concrete numbers from the Department of Education in Washington or the Department of Education in Nashville,” said Davis.
If the feds do end up sequestering a portion of the district’s Title 1 and special education funding, those programs could face reductions.
“Those are the ones we don’t need to cut, but those are the ones that would be cut,” said Davis.
He said the district would simply have to wait for concrete information from the state or the feds. He is optimistic, though, the worst-case scenario will not come to pass.
“I really think that Congress, when they get back to work, will resolve this issue,” said Davis. “I do think that Congress will eventually get down to business and take care of everything that needs to get taken care of.”
The Memphis Commercial Appeal contributed to this report via MCT.