Programs aimed at Mercer Island's special education students and students from economically disadvantaged families will see cuts this school year if the federal budget stalemate continues, though Superintendent Gary Plano says any cuts this school year will be kept away from students and staff as much as possible.
With Congress and the White House deadlocked over the federal budget, sequestration -- a cut back of federal programs -- went into effect today.
According to the White House, Washington state's biggest losses would be in education and military spending.
The Mercer Island School District estimates that the cuts this school year would be between $65,000 and $82,000, or about 8 to 10 percent of the Special Education and Title 1 programs, which are federally funded programs.
While the reductions have not yet been identified, it won't result in staff cuts this year, and the district will look at reducing materials and transportation to certain programs first, Plano said.
"Whatever we do will be behind the scenes, and the cuts will be as far away from children as we can," Plano said.
The district might even consider finding savings in the general fund, in order to avoid staff cuts in the special education and Title 1 programs, he said. The district has a $48 million budget in total.
Last year, 10.4 percent of Mercer Island students were in the special education program and 3.7 percent of district students qualified for free and reduced lunch -- one of the factors in determining Title 1 funding -- according to the district report card, compiled by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
State superintendent Randy Dorn, in a prepared statement, urged Congress and the president to come to an agreement soon:
"These cuts are significant and will have a real impact on education in Washington state. They hurt the kids and families who are struggling the most. I’m deeply troubled by the U.S. government’s inability to take the necessary steps to prevent this debacle. I urge Congress and the president to work quickly to agree on a budget so the full effects of the Sequester can be avoided."
Plano said that Mercer Island is in the early stages of planning the 2013-14 budget and they are planning for a reduced revenue in programs that receive federal funding.
That could mean cuts where Mercer Island students and their families will notice, but Plano said he hopes it doesn't come to that.
"We're hopeful that Congress will stop the madness," Plano said.
In 2013, officials have said our state would lose $11.6 million in funding for primary and secondary education, along with $11.3 million for education for children with disabilities—which would together put about 300 education jobs at risk.
The impact to jobs would be more significant with military employees, according to the White House's projections. Across the state, about 29,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, resulting in a loss of $173.4 million in gross pay.
Some social services would also be hard hit. Washington stands to lose more than $1 million in nutritional assistance for senior residents and $143,000 in funds for victims of domestic violence—requiring the STOP Violence Against Women Program to serve approximately 500 fewer victims.
Unemployment insurance another area that could see some impacts from sequestration. The Seattle Times reports that up to 141,000 Washington residents who are accepting unemployment checks could be impacted, but state officials aren't sure exactly how severe the cuts would be.
The Federal Aviation Administration has said it might shut down eight airports in our state—including Renton Municipal Airport and Paine Field in Everett—but it's still not clear whether or not that would actually happen, according to The Times.
A state-by-state comparison compiled by Wells Fargo shows Washington would be one of the states hardest-hit by sequestration because 5.9 percent of our state's GDP comes from federal spending—much of it in the form of military spending.
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