Federal funding for LB schools, universities in 2013-14 uncertain due to ‘fiscal-cliff’ deal

Sean Belk
Staff Writer

A last-minute deal known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act that was passed by Congress on Jan. 1 to avoid a so-called “fiscal cliff” postpones whether federal funding will be cut for public schools and universities in the 2013-14 school year, according to local school officials.
For the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), the federal compromise postpones the implementation of 8.2 percent in cuts until March, which gives Congress another two months to “address whether the cuts will ultimately occur or if they will occur at a lesser percentage,” said LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou. For now, it looks as if any cuts if ultimately enacted will affect the 2013-14 school year here, he said.
During its Dec. 18 meeting, the LBUSD Board of Education elected to cut summer school this year primarily due to projected declines in federal funding caused by the fiscal cliff– a term used to describe the economic effects that would occur if a series of tax hikes and federal-spending cuts went into effect simultaneously.
Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser said the school district pays for summer school through federal Title 1 funding to help low-achieving and at-risk students. Although more students have been added to the Title 1 status, the federal government hasn’t provided the appropriate funding, he said, adding that the district has been able to carry over funds but could no longer afford to take on the burden.
Eftychiou said LBUSD is projected to receive about $31.8 million for Title I this year. However, if the 8.2 percent in cuts occur, the district will receive about $29.2 million next year. Still, he said the fiscal cliff is just one of many factors that affect the district’s budgeting decisions.
“We receive the vast majority of our funding from the state, and due to many years of state cuts, we’re still grappling with a $20-million structural deficit in our budget,” Eftychiou said. “The loss of some federal funding would just make matters that much worse. We cannot realistically expect programs to be restored in the near future. We’re still cutting further. Budget decisions are ultimately made by the school board, though the board can certainly revisit prior decisions.”
The new fiscal-cliff deal also creates uncertainty for universities. Although pending “sequestration” has so far been averted by the recent congressional compromise signed by President Barack Obama after previously being postponed, research grant funding for universities remains uncertain until the deal is resolved by March.
If the cuts were to go into effect, the federal government would reduce its discretionary, non-defense funding for grant awards by about 8 percent, said Rick Gloady, spokesperson for California State University, Long Beach. In addition, there would be thousands fewer grants from both the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation and funding success rates would drop as well. According to figures from CSULB’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, the university’s current federal, non-defense grant activity is currently a one-year budget of more than $26.5 million.

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