by Max Brantley
The federal sequestration spending cuts that took effect March 1 will cost Arkansas $18.5 million in 2013, says a release from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
A bit more than half the money will be cut from Title I programs for disadvantaged students. Early childhood education such as Head Start also has taken a hit.
More details follow.
Arkansas is starting to feel the effects of the sequester, or sequestration; cuts in federal spending that went into effect on March 1. According to new figures from the United States Department of Education, cuts to education programs in Arkansas will total $18.5 million in 2013. Other estimates are almost $1 million higher. What’s worse is that most of the programs being cut are those designed to help low-income students.
Title 1 funding — money aimed at improving the academic achievement of disadvantaged students — will be the hardest hit, taking a cut of more than $9.6 million. Other programs like education for homeless youth, language acquisition grants, and special education will see significant reductions as well.
These federal cuts come at a time when per-student funding for state programs that help low-income students, also known as NSLA funding, did not increase at all in the last legislative session, even though the need has grown. When programs are flat-funded in this way, they are actually falling behind. This is because program expenses increase with the cost of living, but funding does not. Legislators did not provide a cost of living increase for state NSLA funds for next year because of concerns about how the funds are being used by school districts and the failure to reduce the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers.
“It really is sad to see these cuts go into effect,” says Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF). “A lot of these programs benefit children from lower-income families and they really need more funding, not less. A budget is a set of priorities, and we need to prioritize the education of our children.”
Jerri Derlikowski, AACF’s director of education policy and finance, says the use of state funding for programs to reduce the achievement gap between poor students and their more affluent counterparts is more critical now than ever.
“We need to narrow the use of NSLA funds to programs that are evidence-based,” she says, “programs that target the academic needs of low-income students. With these cuts to our federal education dollars, it is even more important to assure the most effective and efficient use of state NSLA funding.”
The early childhood education program Head Start has also had to make cutbacks after a reduction in federal funding. Some programs have decided to close early for the summer. That means families will have to find other ways to care for and feed their children during those days. Other programs are reducing enrollment, instituting staff furloughs, or only making emergency purchases. Nationwide, 70,000 fewer children will be able to attend Head Start programs as a result of the cuts.