Fiscal cliff cuts will hurt services for at-risk students
Just because a child doesn't qualify for special education services doesn't mean he or she doesn't need a little help when it comes to reading, writing and math.
Title I, a federally funded program, helps pay for local teachers to give students a boost in those subjects, with the goal of bringing them up to grade level.
It's also one of the programs that could be cut if the Jan. 2 fiscal cliff happens, and local school districts could see reductions — by hundreds of thousands of dollars — in how much Title I money they receive.
School districts are also concerned about the loss of funding for several other programs that help pay for things like special education, maintenance for aging buildings and even after-school programs. The cuts would probably start at the beginning of next fiscal year, July 1.
"These cuts will have the most dramatic effect for students who are already identified as 'at-risk,'" said Don Owen, of the Urbana school district, "which is all the more reason we as a society need to be concerned about (the fiscal cliff's) impact on public schools."
Owen is the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Take, for example, students who use Title I.
Its services are crucial for students who don't qualify for special education services but need a boost in reading, writing or math to perform at grade level, said Jo Perkins, a retired Title I teacher who still works three days a week at Leal Elementary in Urbana,
"It gives a double dose of reading or math," Perkins said.
Students using the service either do so outside the classroom, or Title I teachers sometimes work with students in their regular classrooms.
The goal is to work with students for a quarter or semester to help them catch up, and then work with the next group of children who need help.
Without Title I, those students won't get the extra support they need because classroom teachers simply don't have time, Perkins said.
"There's not enough time in the day to meet all these needs," she said.
The Champaign school district estimates it could lose between $430,000 and $500,000 next year in Title I and Title II money, according to district spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart.
Title II pays for teachers' professional development, and some teachers' salaries to keep class sizes from getting too big, Stuart said.
Urbana estimates it could lose between about $156,500 and about $182,500 in Title I money and between about $29,500 and about $34,500 in Title II money, according to Carol Baker, Urbana's director of business.
When it comes to IDEA grants that help pay for special education, Champaign could lose between $175,000 and $200,000 and Urbana, between about $105,000 and about $122,000.
Baker said Urbana could also lose some of the $648,500 it receives in interest credits on bonds it sold, as well. Owen said cuts could also affect money it receives in Teaching American History Grant and its three 21st Century Learning Community Grants, which it uses to send students on free or reduced lunch to after-school activities.
Stuart said the school district would convene a committee to recommend how the programs will be cut if the fiscal cliff happens.
Owen said making the cuts taking effect next year gives the district "a little time to prepare, but not much."
"These cuts come on top of cuts made by the State of Illinois through the state legislature and (the state board of education) over the past two years," Owen said.
What is the fiscal cliff?
The "fiscal cliff" refers to the wholesale expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the simultaneous implementation of across-the-board spending cuts. The potential spending reductions, to be divided between military and domestic programs, were locked into place more than a year ago in hopes the threat would have forced a compromise on a deficit reduction deal before now.
Economists in and out of government warn that sending the economy over the "cliff" would trigger a recession. To avoid the danger, President Obama and Congress are hoping to devise a plan that can reduce future deficits by as much as $4 trillion in a decade, cancel the tax increases and automatic spending cuts and expand the government's ability to borrow beyond the current limit of $16.4 trillion.