April 7, 2013

Schools in Arlington could lose $2 million

Sequestration could cost the district some federal funding for Title I programs.

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The sequestration cuts that began in March could result in an almost $2 million reduction in the Arlington school district's Title I federally funded programs starting in the 2013-14 school year.

Carole Hagler, the district's director of state and federal programs, gave a presentation to the board more than a month ago that indicated that students in special education and in at-risk programs and those needing low-income assistance would likely be the most directly affected by federal cutbacks.

Professional development and family engagement programs could also be cut, Hagler said.

The amount of the cuts and their eventual effects are a moving target at this point, educators say.

More than 36,500 students in Arlington could be affected in some way by the cuts, though Hagler said every effort will be made to hold the cuts to behind-the-scenes operations.

Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said: "The schools won't feel the impact right away. Most of this money would not naturally flow into the districts until July in preparation for the school year beginning in August. That gives Congress a little time to come up with a solution before that happens."

The reductions are the result of sequestration, the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that began March 1 after Congress and President Barack Obama could not agree on how to cut federal spending and reduce the federal deficit. The cuts would end if an agreement is reached.

The Education Department sent an advisory in late February warning that Arlington and other districts in Texas could lose more than 5 percent of federal Title I education funding. But the TEA contends that the reductions can't be determined until the summer, when money typically is earmarked for the upcoming school year.

Cindy Powell, the Arlington district's chief financial officer, called the situation "confusing."

"At this point they [TEA] still say that they don't know exactly what the sequester means to Texas on all of these [federal] grants," Powell said.

Texas schools receive funding from four major federal programs, according to the TEA, which administers the money. These programs are all subject to cuts under sequestration.

They are the federal Title I allocations for poor and at-risk student services, Title III grants for English language learner programs, the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) funds for special-population student services, and the Perkins Career and Technical Education allocations.

The Arlington district's maximum federal Title I entitlements for 2012-13 totaled $16,054,801, according to district figures.

Current Title I money is spread among 45 Arlington district schools: 34 elementaries, nine junior highs, one high school and the Kooken Education Center for pre-kindergarten. In August, Adams Elementary will open in east Arlington as the district's 35th Title I elementary school, with 81 percent of the students on the free-lunch program and 62 percent classified as at-risk.

Arlington's Title I schools have 57 to 97 percent of their students on the federal free-lunch program, the commonly used indicator of poverty among schoolchildren.

If the sequestration amount holds at 5.4 percent, Arlington's losses could be mitigated substantially.

Anticipating possible cuts to Title I programs, the TEA last school year held back 10 percent of districts' federal Title I funding to help make up the difference next year. Arlington could get back 4.6 percent of that funding from the TEA.

"We were originally told it could be a 10 percent cut, but then no, it's an 8.2 percent cut," Hagler told the school board. "But now, education programs are at a 5.4 percent cut." The federal government's two-month postponement of the sequestration from January to March dropped the scheduled 8.2 percent reduction in education funding to 5.4 percent.

"It's a waiting game here in Texas," Ratcliffe said.

Arlington and North Texas are likely to be spared some of the deepest cuts, according to the state.

Some districts, such as those with a large military presence, would be the first to feel the loss. Declining enrollment would mean less state per-student funding as sequester-driven personnel cuts take place at military installations, Ratcliffe said. "Killeen, with Fort Hood, could feel the pain fast," Ratcliffe said. "Some of the San Antonio districts would, too."

Other North Texas districts are also in a waiting mode.

Under complex federal formulas that govern Title I programs, the Fort Worth district's Title I allocation is estimated to remain about the same as this year.

The majority of the Title I funding allocation would not be affected because of the high number of low-income students enrolled in the district, the TEA said.

The district was allotted $37.7 million in Title I grants for fiscal 2012-13, said Mirgitt Crespo, federal programs director.

In Fort Worth schools, 67,708 students, or 81 percent of the student body, meet Title I eligibility criteria, the district said.

The overall scope of the cuts is easier to see when statewide estimates are applied.

According to TEA estimates made before the sequester began, Texas could lose $67 million to $71 million in Title I funding for primary and secondary education, affecting 172,000 to 179,000 students, 930 to 1,300 teacher and staff positions, and 285 to 300 schools statewide.Texas also could lose approximately $50 million in IDEA funds, affecting services to 20,000 students with disabilities and 900 staff members who serve them.

About 38,000 students with limited English proficiency could lose almost $5.2 million in services, the TEA estimated.

Staff writer Jessamy Brown contributed to this report.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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