Sequestration Continues to Threaten Education Funding

At the end of last year, Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act, H.R. 8, to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff,” while also delaying sequestration until March 1, 2013, and adjusting tax policy and rates to raise approximately $620 billion toward deficit reduction over 10 years.

Because Congress was unable to reach an agreement to reduce the federal deficit, President Obama issued the sequestration order March 1. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), sequestration will require a 5.0 percent reduction in non-exempt defense discretionary funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. For the Department of Education, this will result in a total cut of approximately $2.278 billion, the largest cuts to education in our nation’s history. For local school districts, especially the largest districts, this could mean millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Meanwhile, Congress agreed to suspend the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling until May 19. The measure requires the House and Senate to pass an FY 2014 budget by April 15 or their salaries will be withheld until they pass a budget. In addition, the continuing resolution, which currently funds the federal government, is set to expire March 27, 2013; both the House and Senate are expected to release their FY 2014 budget plans shortly.

There were deep policy divisions among members of Congress as to how to avert the automatic spending cuts. In early February, President Obama called on Congress to delay the pending sequestration cuts though a balanced plan of revenues, entitlement reforms and other spending cuts. The president also said Congress should delay the sequestration for several months if reaching an agreement on a larger package was not possible. Republicans immediately rejected the idea of any increased revenue, and supported more spending cuts and entitlement reforms to reduce the deficit.

In February, AFSA signed on to a letter with the “nondefense discretionary” (NDD) community calling on Congress to take a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not make further cuts to discretionary programs, which already have been cut by $1.5 trillion while revenues have contributed only $600 billion.

In addition, AFSA sent out Action Alerts providing members with sample letters to the editor and sample letters for their members of Congress that can be personalized to demonstrate the harmful impact of the cuts on their school, community and students. AFSA will be closely monitoring the debate over sequestration, the CR and the FY 14 budget proposals, and will continue fighting to protect education funding.