Automatic Education Cuts Loom on the Federal Horizon

By Dervarics, Charles | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, August 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Automatic Education Cuts Loom on the Federal Horizon


Dervarics, Charles, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Already grappling with a divisive election and an uneven economy, education advocates are bracing for more upheaval at the prospect of across-the-board federal budget cuts that would chop more than $4 billion from higher education and K-12 programs starting in January.

The reductions, scheduled to begin Jan. 2, would mean automatic cuts of about 8 percent in most federal education programs unless Congress and the White House agree to other options to reduce spending. Congress triggered this January 2013 deadline when its designated "Super Committee" failed to act late last year on a plan to curb federal debt.

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While lawmakers always had the option to stop the across-the-board cuts by reducing the federal debt, only this summer--in the midst of a presidential campaign--is the issue starting to gain widespread attention on Capitol Hill.

"The cuts would decimate education programs," said Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. "We have to invest in education, and we can't do it on the cheap," he said.

Known formally as "sequestration," the cuts would affect most federal programs although a few--such as Pell Grants--would gain a reprieve. Aside from programs such as college work/study, TRIO, Head Start and special education that would face reductions, the across-the-board cuts also would hit health, housing, justice and environmental programs.

More than 3,000 organizations interested in education and other domestic programs signed a letter urging Congress to take action to prevent the cutbacks. Those signing the letter included the American Council on Education, the American Association of Community Colleges, the National Education Association (NEA) and Tuskegee University.

"The pending cuts would arbitrarily take education backwards" despite the higher costs of serving students, said Kim Anderson, NEA's director of advocacy.

Looking at effects of the cut on individual programs, NEA said the reductions would cut $71 million from TRIO programs, affecting 67,000 students and rolling back funding to less than the 2002 level. Federal work/study would lose $82 million, potentially affecting 683,000 students. …

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