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Archive for Saturday, December 29, 2012

Schools getting few answers about ‘fiscal cliff’ impact

December 29, 2012

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Students who get free or reduced-price lunches at school should still be able to eat when classes resume on Wednesday.

But as negotiations in Washington grind on over how to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," state education officials say nothing is certain.

"Here's what they told us just not long ago," said Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis. "They didn't think (the fiscal cliff) would affect the lunch program, but it could. And they said nobody will know the answer to that until they reach some kind of agreement."

School lunch subsidies are just one of many federal programs affecting schools that could take a hit if Congress and President Barack Obama fail to reach agreement on a deficit reduction package by midnight Tuesday.

That's the point commonly being called the "fiscal cliff" because, under an earlier agreement reached in 2011 over extending the federal debt ceiling, a series of spending cuts and tax increases will automatically take effect on Jan. 1 unless Congress and the president reach agreement on a long-term deficit reduction package.

Dennis said Kansas schools receive about $125 million a year in meal subsidies through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Two other programs through the U.S. Department of Education also each provide about $100 million a year in federal funds for Kansas: special education and Title I funding for schools that serve predominantly students from low-income households.

There are six elementary schools in Lawrence that receive Title I funding: New York, Kennedy, Woodlawn, Schwegler, Hillcrest and Pinckney.

If the automatic cuts take effect Jan. 1 — a process officially known as "sequestration" — most domestic discretionary programs would take an 8.2 percent cut across the board.

Dennis said state officials are being told that some programs could be exempted from the automatic cuts, but as of Friday nobody knew what might be exempted and what might not.

Of the three major federal programs, Dennis said the one least likely to be affected by automatic spending cuts is Title I funding. That's because Title I is "forward funded," meaning the money for the current school year is locked in place, so that program would not feel the impact until the 2013-14 school year.

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