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Coming Federal Education Cuts Will Hurt Schools, Especially Poorer Ones

As my colleague Phil Oliff noted yesterday, several governors are emphasizing correctly the importance of education for long-term economic growth — but reversing only a tiny fraction of the massive cuts their states have made in education funding since the recession began.

Now, scheduled cuts in federal education funding under last year’s Budget Control Act will make states’ job even harder.

The federal government will impose across-the-board cuts in 2013 of about 9 percent to education aid for states and a wide range of other programs (unless the President and Congress take action to replace these across-the-board cuts with something else).  More cuts will occur over the following eight years in the part of the federal budget that includes aid for schools.

Those cuts not only will come on top of large state and local cuts in education, but also will fall most heavily on the school districts with the greatest needs unless states offset the cut by raising their own funding.  A significant chunk of federal education aid is targeted to school districts with high concentrations of low-income students to help those students meet high academic standards.

A recent report by legislative staff in Virginia, for example, shows that cutting federal funding by about 9 percent would cost Virginia schools $82.5 million next year, and the cuts would hit high-poverty districts like Richmond (where the poverty rate is 33 percent) much harder than low-poverty districts like Falls Church (where the poverty rate is just 2 percent).

Richmond, which received over $2,000 per child in federal aid in 2010, would lose about $179 per student (assuming the state took no action to protect high-need schools), while Falls Church, which received $273 per child, would lose about $24 per student.

That’s bad news for education equity in Virginia.  Richmond schools already have far less in total (local, state, and federal) funding per child than Falls Church schools — more than $5,600 less in 2008.

At a time when income inequality is at historic levels and economic mobility is, if anything, declining slightly, cuts like these may make it harder for low-income students to acquire the skills they need to climb the economic ladder.