Published Online: July 26, 2013

Sequestration Cuts Will Hit Kentucky Schools Hard, Officials Say

The impact of the across-the-board federal spending cuts on Kentucky programs ranging from special education to social work is expected to be more devastating next year than this year, state education and human resources officials warned lawmakers Thursday.

They said the federal cuts, known as sequestration, will mean tough decisions for state legislators as they craft the state's next two-year budget in Kentucky's 2014 General Assembly that begins in January. The budget depends on state and federal tax dollars.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday told members of the state legislature's budget committees that the federal cuts to education this state fiscal year that began July 1 will amount to about $26 million.

Meanwhile, Beth Jurek, budget chief for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the cuts to the cabinet amount to about $8.2 million in fiscal year 2013 and between $17.7 million and $18.4 million the following year.

Hiren Desai, the education department's associate commissioner for administration and support, said the impact of the cuts will be worse next year, particularly on school staffing, as school districts struggle with dwindling federal funds.

He predicted that "a perfect storm" will develop early next year when the public realizes the impact of the federal cuts and state lawmakers have to produce a balanced budget.

Jurek said the health cabinet that provides a number of social service programs had built into its budget this year cuts of about 8.4 percent but the sequestrations reductions actually are about 5 percent.

"It's not as bad as we initially thought but it's still bad and could get worse in the future," she said.

The education officials and Jurek outlined the impact of the cuts on several state programs.

For example, Title I federal dollars that help fund primary and secondary education will drop by $10.4 million, from $221 million to $210.6 million.

That means fewer student services will produce more students at risk of becoming academically unsuccessful, said Charles Harman, director of the education department's budget and financial management division.

Federal dollars for special education in Kentucky will dip about $8 million, he said, meaning fewer instructional staff such as occupational therapists and speech therapists who often work directly with individual students.

Teachers also may have to travel further to attend training, since federal dollars for Improving Teacher Quality will dip by $813,000, he said.

Also, an educational program to provide "supplemental enrichment" to students in literacy, math, science, technology, arts, nutrition and health education will drop by $1.4 million.

Jurek said the cuts to the health cabinet include $1 million to substance abuse prevention and treatment grants, $268,287 to community mental health service, nearly $9 million for low income energy assistance, about $2 million for support for social workers and $1.1 million to help old people.

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said he was "outraged" by the cuts. Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said Americans "need to know what these guys in Washington are doing."

Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, asked Education Commissioner Holliday if he has contacted Kentucky's congressional delegation about the "harm of sequestration to Kentucky."

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Holliday said he has, and each political party blames the other for the cuts.

The total sequestration cuts for the nation amount to about $85.4 billion, or about 2.4 percent of the $3.6 trillion federal budget for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The cuts are split evenly by dollar amounts between the defense and non-defense programs. Some major programs like Social Security, Medicaid, federal pensions and veterans' benefits are exempt.

State Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, said he is concerned that no one knows how long sequestration will last. "We could have a real crisis in two to three years," he said.

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