California schools stand at precipice of Washington's 'fiscal cliff'

Principal Pat Kurtz with newcomers at Santa Margarita Elementary School in Oceanside.
Principal Pat Kurtz with newcomers at Santa Margarita Elementary School in Oceanside.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Unless Congress agrees on a budget in the next few days, federally-funded education programs will lose about $4.7 billion dollars as the country goes off the fiscal cliff. The impact promises to be vast -- from toddlers in Head Start preschool programs to researchers at universities.

If the automatic 8.2% spending cut goes into effect on Jan. 3, it would be the largest funding cut to education ever, advocates said.
California’s share breaks down to almost $455 million.

Cuts would vary from school to school, said Joel Packer, of the Washington-based Raben Group. Packer, who's been working on education policy for more than 30 years said low-income districts would be hardest hit.

"Title 1 schools would lose more money than a non-Title 1 school. And schools with higher numbers of disabilities would lose more money than schools with lower numbers of children with disabilities," he said.

Traditional school districts won't feel the impact right away. They're current-year funding is already in place.  But one program that would be cut right away is Economic Impact Aid, which provides up to 70% of funding for districts near military bases and on American-Indian reservations. 

"The federal government pays money to the school district in lieu of the fact that there’s no property taxes being paid," Packer said. "Those school districts will be cut right away and they are the most dependent on federal funds."

Other schools would mostly be spared until 2013, experts said.

In higher education, Cal State schools project they’d lose about $34 million dollars, forcing them to cut work study programs and tutoring and counseling services for low income students. The UC system stands to lose more than $335 million in federal funding for research in the first year of cuts. On the bright side, Pell Grants are immune the first year.
Here are sample of cuts projected by the National Education Association: