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Sequestration is Here

June 2, 2013

In addition to the email about testing, school districts also received on Friday information concerning budget cuts within federal programs. It’s a long message, but I’ll include it below, in its entirety before discussing it.

TO:  District SuperintendentFROM:  Ramona Coats, Assistant State Superintendent, Office of Federal Programs

DATE: May 31, 2013

RE: Sequestration: Strategies for Schools Living With the Effects of Budget Cuts

Over the past several months, Superintendent Janet Barresi, local education agencies (LEAs), and everyone working in the Federal Program’s Division at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), braced themselves for the possibility of Sequestration.  However, on March 27, 2013, the possibility became a reality.  The failure of Congress to come to an agreement on a balanced method for reducing the federal deficit resulted in Sequestration, and Education was on the front lines for budget cuts.

Every child deserves an equal opportunity to receive an excellent education; therefore, OSDE has determined to provide LEAs with strategies that will hopefully offset some of the effects of budget cuts brought about by Sequestration; along with providing technical assistance addressing ways schools can maximize the use of their federal grant dollars.  At its most fundamental level, Sequestration presents itself as a major budget challenge to effective operations at both the State and local level. The goals are to spend funds wisely and to ensure Title I programs and staffing are maintained at a level resulting in increased student academic achievement.

At the present, OSDE has received the FY 2014 preliminary Title I allocation from USDE, and the Federal Programs office worked as swiftly as possible in performing all calculation procedures for those funds. The preliminary allocation notices will be made available through the Allocation Notices System in the School District Reporting Site/Single Sign-On. OSDE received a total FY 2014 grant allocation in the amount of $147,302,003.  These funds are for the purpose of carrying out the objectives of Title I, Part A, (Improving the Education of the Disadvantaged Student).  It appears that Oklahoma received an 8.78% cut to its Title I dollars as compared to the 9% cut for Kansas.

Superintendent Barresi is strongly recommending that LEAs take every opportunity to implement sound fiscal measures when planning their FY 2014 federal grant applications/budgets.  Superintendent Barresi is also encouraging LEAs to perform a thorough district/site needs assessment, as there may be items in the budget that have not produced adequate results in student academic achievement; therefore, the item should not be considered for the FY 2014 grant application.

All decisions in the use of federal funds should be data driven, aligned to the district/site needs assessment, and supported by a collaborative Title I, Part A district/site team that works toward implementing scientifically research based ‘best’ practices that will ensure student success.

OSDE is providing the following strategies that may serve to help LEAs with budget cuts caused by Sequestration

  • Needs Assessment:  Determining Value

Districts should perform a thorough district/site needs assessment when planning for the FY 2014 Title I application/budget.  The district/site Title I team should analyze all items included on the application and determine the value of each.

  • Title I Staffing:  Data Based Decision Making

Districts should carefully consider all meaningful student assessment data that reveals the status of student performance in reading and math; thus determining site needs and appropriate placement of all Title I staff.

  • Waiver Requests:  Carry-over Waiver

District officials may wish to consider requesting a waiver pertaining to the Title I, Part A 15% carryover limitation.  As it stands, school districts that receive $50,000 or more in Title I Part A funds may carry over no more than 15% of its funds to the next year.   Districts are allowed to waive the carryover limit once every three years. OSDE has presently submitted a request to USDE that would enable the SEA to waive the carryover limitation more than once every three years for an LEA that needs the additional waiver with respect to FY 2013 funds. This office is currently waiting for a response from the United States Department of Education (USDE).  (More information on this topic is forthcoming.)

In closing, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is highly aware that budget cuts experienced due to Sequestration will make a significant difference in Title I programs.  Due to the serious nature of these cuts, the office of Federal Programs is making every effort to provide support and technical assistance to districts as they perform planning for their FY 2014 Title I, Part A applications/budgets.  The office of Federal Programs stands ready and available to any and all districts needing one-on-one application training, conference calls, or point-to-point video conferencing addressing planning for FY 2014.

This is a big deal. As we all know, schools with high levels of poverty tend to have more students coming to them with gaps in learning. Even as those gaps are closed, students move, and the ones you’ve helped are replaced with new students with new gaps. Title I programs are better situated to meet this need than all other remediation programs combined. This cut is very significant, because in most schools around the state, Title I funding provides just enough money for minimal staffing. Materials, tutoring, parental outreach, and professional development come out of whatever is left. That’s what this cut will cost schools.

The strategies suggested by the SDE imply that districts somehow were unaware that they were supposed to conduct a needs assessment, use data to prioritize staffing, and evaluate the effectiveness of programs. This is what schools do every year. The fact that they feel the need to mention these things again shows their disconnect from how school districts operate.

Budget cuts in any program are hard for schools to absorb. Title I is particularly concerning because it impacts the neediest students. While the SDE can’t control the budget cuts, they can at least offer something more helpful than guidance to be careful with how we spend our money. If they are sending people to conferences and finding out best strategies for working in Title I schools, they need to target dissemination of those strategies. Maybe, the SDE needs to have a Title I conference itself, instead of allowing for a few random breakout sessions at Vision 2020 that might apply to Title I.

Remember also that sequestration will also impact the other Title programs, Child Nutrition, and Special Education. Not to beat a dead horse, but this makes the continuing lack of financial support for public education in Oklahoma even more critical.

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  1. Kate
    June 2, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    *L* Following strategies aka more smoke and mirrors from the SDE a/k/a more talking without really saying anything helpful

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