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WAITING FOR SEQUESTRATION: OMB Director Urges Congress to Offset Impact of $1.2 Trillion in Automatic Spending Cuts; Senate Committee to Examine Impact on Federal Education Programs

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“The sequester wasn’t meant to be implemented,” Zients writes. “It was designed to cause cuts so deep that just threatening them would force members of Congress to agree on a big, balanced package of deficit reduction. The truth is that no amount of planning or reports will turn the sequester into anything other than the devastating cut in defense and domestic investments that it was meant to be. What’s needed is action to avoid the sequester by passing balanced deficit reduction that the president can sign into law, not searching for ways to cushion the blow on defense—and nondefense—programs.”

In additional to final appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013, another looming issue in federal spending is an automatic across-the-board cut totaling $1.2 trillion over ten years, formally called “sequestration,” that will go into effect in January 2013 unless the U.S. Congress acts to change it by agreeing to a mix of tax increases and spending cuts to offset the amount. These cuts to military and domestic spending alike were triggered when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the “supercommittee,” failed to agree on a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit.

In a recent op-ed for PoliticoJeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), outlined some of the “devastating” effects that the sequestration would have on the nation and urged Congress to take action to prevent it from happening.

“The sequester wasn’t meant to be implemented,” Zients writes. “It was designed to cause cuts so deep that just threatening them would force members of Congress to agree on a big, balanced package of deficit reduction. The truth is that no amount of planning or reports will turn the sequester into anything other than the devastating cut in defense and domestic investments that it was meant to be. What’s needed is action to avoid the sequester by passing balanced deficit reduction that the president can sign into law, not searching for ways to cushion the blow on defense—and nondefense—programs.”

Zients notes that sequestration would cut overall domestic spending by about 8 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. However, because these cuts must be implemented only on January 2, after a quarter of the fiscal year has gone by, the actual percentage cut to the remaining funds could easily reach double digits. He adds that the cuts would result in 100,000 kids losing their places in Head Start and more than 25,000 teachers and aides being laid off. Additional analyses by the American Association of School Administrations and National Education Association paint equally dark pictures.

For school districts worried about federal funding being cut in the middle of the 2012-2013 school year, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued a memo to chief state school officers saying that it will “take the sequester from funds that would become available in July 2013 for school year 2013-14, not from the 2012 advance appropriations available in October 2012.” Specific programs that could have been affected had this decision not been made include Title I, School Improvement Programs, special education, and career and technical education, which represent the four programs that receive Fiscal Year 2013 funding from both 2012 advance appropriations and 2013 regular appropriations.

To better determine the impact that sequestration will have on federal education programs, the Senate Labor, Heath and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on July 25. The hearing will feature U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as state and local education leaders and researchers. More information on the hearing is available athttp://www.appropriations.senate.gov/events.cfm?date=7/25/2012.

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