Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

California schools will lose $262 million in federal funds because of sequestration cuts, state schools chief Tom Torlakson told congressional leaders in a letter last month.

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Sacramento-area schools face cuts from federal sequester

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 - 6:16 am

Sequestration is hitting home.

Across the region, school districts are considering how to trim programs because federal cuts known as the sequester took effect March 1 when federal leaders could not agree on a spending plan.

The cuts are hitting hardest at school districts with a high share of disadvantaged students, as federal funding primarily pays for programs that serve needy and disabled students.

Schools in low-income areas will have fewer materials and teachers, as well as larger class sizes. Programs designed to improve teacher quality, provide academic support to low-income families and assist homeless students also face cuts.

School boards must now look for extra money to shore up federally mandated programs such as special education, which cannot be cut despite a loss in funding.

The federal cuts come just as California school districts start to recover from five years of state budget cuts. Now California schools will lose $262 million in federal funds because of sequestration cuts, state schools chief Tom Torlakson told congressional leaders in a letter last month.

Sacramento County schools stand to lose more than $8 million in federal funding next year because of sequestration. David Gordon, county schools chief, said districts should expect federal funding to be reduced by about 5.5 percent annually. He cautioned district leaders to consider the cuts ongoing and not to use one-time money to shore up budgets.

"But if reserves are all you got, that's where you are," he said.

Sacramento City Unified School District is facing the largest cut locally – $2.6 million. Officials say this cut will affect special education, teacher training and support for low-income families in the district of 47,896 students.

San Juan Unified will take a $2.1 million sequester cut. Leaders in the district of about 47,000 students expect to lose $832,808 in special education funding, $921,000 in Title I funding – which supports schools with a large number of low-income students – and $300,000 in funding for programs that improve teacher quality, immigrant education and assist the homeless, among others.

"The biggest impact will likely be fewer of our Title I schools with reduced K-3 class sizes," Allen said in an email.

Districts will have to dip deeper into their general funds for special education. The federal government still requires schools to maintain the same level of special education programs despite cutting federal support.

"That is the irony. It's a trigger cut on a program that is federally mandated," Gordon said. "They have been promising to increase reimbursement, not cut it."

The federal government's share of special education costs has already slipped to less than 20 percent, Gordon said.

The effects of sequestration became real in Sacramento City Unified on Thursday night. The school board considered cuts to close a $5.6 million budget gap that included $750,000 in sequester cuts to mandated programs.

San Juan Unified is allowing staff who run unmandated programs affected by the sequester to determine cuts, unless it comes to layoffs, which require school boards to make a decision, Allen said.

"For the most part, it will mean nipping and tucking here and there, with some staffing reduction in hours, less spent on materials/supplies – all dependent on the program and the amounts cut," he stated via email.

Call The Bee's Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

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