FiscalCliffSign010113Congress’ New Year’s Day drama, ending a stalemate over extending tax cuts for all but the wealthy, delays rather than resolves an across-the-board 8.2 percent decrease in federal education spending. That’s the spending piece of the “fiscal cliff” that Congress decided to put off deciding until early March.

For California districts, that means a two-month reprieve from facing potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts to special education programs and Title I aid for low-income students, along with tens of millions in cuts to the preschool program Head Start, career and technical education and grants for teacher training.

Even if all of those cuts were to happen, districts would have months to prepare for them. Except for Head Start, the cuts would happen starting July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year for schools. The cuts to Head Start and to subsidies for school districts that serve families working at federal facilities, like Naval Base San Diego, were to take effect Jan. 1.

The reprieve from cuts to defense and most domestic spending programs will coincide with the deadline to raise the ceiling on the national debt. Many congressional Republicans have vowed not to increase the national debt unless there also are substantial cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare and discretionary spending. Thus, the next round will likely be as rancorous, if not more so, than the last few days’ debate in Congress.

The federal government contributes less than 10 percent to school spending in California, but it is concentrated in programs for students with disabilities and poor children. According to a staff report prepared for Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee (see pages 88-89 for impact on California), the full 8.2 percent cuts to California would include:

  • $139.6 million in Title I grants to districts with low-income students, including $30 million for Los Angeles Unified;
  • $107 million for special education, including services for preschool-aged children;
  • $75 million for Head Start;
  • $19 million in child-care subsidies; and
  • $15 million for career and technical education.

So far, federal student loans and most child nutrition programs would be exempt from the cuts.

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