San Francisco braces for possible reduction in federal education funding

S.F. Examiner File PhotoHurting: Decisions in Washington

Just when education officials thought they could breathe easier with the passage of Proposition 30 last week, now the potential for billions of dollars in cuts from the federal government looms.

If Congress doesn’t act by Jan. 1 on a combination of spending reductions and expiring tax breaks, known as the “fiscal cliff,” K-12 education stands to lose $4 billion nationally.

“It will impact students,” said Deborah Rigsby, director of federal legislation for the National School Board Association. “We urge Congress to develop a plan to protect education as an investment that is critical to the economy.”

The pending cuts are the result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which requires across-the-board spending reductions of up to ?10 percent on discretionary accounts and for the military. In education, that would result in larger class sizes, teacher layoffs and cuts to ?after-school programs.

Districts nationwide have warned that if these cuts are enacted, they will affect students most in need.

“The impacts would be local, swift and dramatic,” said Juandiego Wade, federal relations chairman of the Virginia School Boards ?Association.

Locally, the San Francisco Unified School District could lose as much as $5.4 million, according to Board of Education member Jill Wynns, who is also president of the California School Boards Association.

That means critical programs typically funded by the federal government — such as special education and schools in need — would take the largest hits. Districts would have to borrow from other programs to fill the gap, which could result in furlough days and teacher layoffs.

“We’re talking about actual programs for real children and teacher jobs,” Wynns said, “things that are essential investments for the future.”

Schools in California had petitioned for the passage of Prop. 30, which will maintain current education funding levels through increases in sales taxes and income taxes for wealthy individuals, but the fiscal cliff poses a new challenge.

“If the cuts are made, we have no choice — we cannot stop funding these programs,” Wynns said. “That means money out of the general fund and it means layoffs, closed programs and increased class sizes.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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