New York state schools stand to lose an average of $243,000 in federal funding next year if Congress and the White House can’t reach a compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff” by Jan. 2, according to an analysis of federal grant allocations to school districts completed by the New York State School Boards Association.
“The consequences of lawmakers not reaching agreement on the fiscal cliff are severe for students in New York schools, especially those in city school districts,” said New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer in a release.
The term “fiscal cliff” refers to the consequences of a combination of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board government spending cuts scheduled to become effective Dec. 31, 2012. If the government allows these events to proceed without intervening, the potential aftermath includes huge tax increases — an average of $2,000 a year for middle-class families — skyrocketing unemployment, falling household incomes, collapsing consumer and investor confidence and the potential for recession.
Statewide, schools in New York could lose $164 million in federal funding earmarked largely for educational programs serving students with disabilities and students in poverty, known as IDEA funding. NYSSBA’s analysis is based on across-the-board cuts in federal programs – known as sequestration – that the White House estimates to be 8.2 percent. The biggest impact will be on city schools; Syracuse faces a deficit of $1.6 million if a compromise isn’t reached.
But suburban schools like Liverpool and North Syracuse could also face steep cuts. Donald Keegan, assistant superintendent for management for the North Syracuse Central School District, said those cuts will be particularly damaging, coming after years of belt-tightening.
“Every little bit helps or hurts us. And to know that we could lose $295,000 due to the fiscal cliff adds another hardship we’re trying to process. To put that in perspective, that’s four or five teachers for us,” Keegan said. “It’s a particular difficulty for North Syracuse, because we spend less per pupil than most districts. Only nine other districts statewide spend less per pupil than we do. And we don’t have a very big fund balance. So there are very few places left for us to cut. For us to lose that much, it’s a real hardship for us in particular.”
Liverpool, meanwhile, is looking at about $238,000 in cuts. Superintendent Richard Johns expressed frustration that the district was facing the prospect of carrying out its mission with even less in the 2013-14 school year.
“At some point, you say what more can the government heap on the shoulders of public education? Our costs keep going through the roof. At some point, you have to ask if we’re going to educate our kids or not,” Johns said. “It’s very frustrating.”
Johns said the government’s failure to make public education a priority would only perpetuate America’s economic downturn.
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the best president this country ever had. He got us out of the Great Depression, and he did that, in part, with the GI Bill, which sent millions of vets back to school with their college tuition paid for. And what happened? In the 1950s, America became a superpower, because we were the most education nation on the globe,” he said. “Now, we’re going to underspend education and somehow fight our way out of the recession? It doesn’t compute.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.