What Would H.R. 1 Really Mean for Our Schools?

Education Cuts Would Disproportionately Affect Low-Income Students

Last week the Republicans passed a continuing resolution, H.R. 1, which cuts federal education programs by $5 billion. The cuts would have an immediate impact across the country and would fall disproportionately on schools that serve high percentages of low-income children because these schools receive the largest share of federal funding for education.

What would these cuts mean in terms of the students and teachers who would be affected? First consider the impact that this bill would have on funding for Title I, which provides supplemental funding to districts and schools to meet the needs of low-income children. Title I would be cut by $694 million, which is equivalent to eliminating the extra academic support Title I provides for 957,000 students. Because Title I money is distributed at the school level, a large proportion of the 20 million children nationwide who receive free or reduced-price lunches—many of whom attend schools that receive Title I support—would be affected by reduced or eliminated programs at their schools.

School Improvement Grants would also take a big hit. This federal program provides states with funds to turn around their lowest-performing schools, many of which are schools with high percentages of low-income and at-risk children. SIG would be cut by $337 million, a 61.7 percent cut that would be equivalent to cutting short intervention activities for 482,000 children at the lowest-performing schools. The lowest-performing schools in this country simply cannot continue to function in their current form; cutting SIG funding is like accepting failure for those schools that still need help.

To examine the impacts of these cuts even further, consider the case of Pomona Unified School District, a midsize city in southern California with about 31,000 students, 77 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. This district received 15 percent of its revenue from the federal government in 2008, which translates to $2,014 in federal funding per pupil. Of the total federal funding, 20 percent came from Title I funds. Assuming across-the-board cuts, the district would lose more than $600,000 in Title I money. Losing $600,000 means firing teachers and eliminating some of the support services that are so critical to improving student achievement.

Pomona Unified also received a School Improvement Grant in 2010 to turn around two low-performing middle schools and one low-performing high school. The district received a total of $16 million for three years, which ends up being about $1,547 per student per year in those schools. The proposed cut in SIG funds is equivalent to a loss of more than $950 per student.

Looking beyond K-12, it is important to recognize that H.R. 1 would impose cuts to early childhood and higher education as well. Funding for Head Start would be cut by $1 billion, which would eliminate almost 196,000 enrollment slots for low-income children nationwide.

On the higher-education end of the spectrum, the maximum Pell Grant award would be reduced by $845. This $5.6 billion cut is equivalent to cutting financial aid for an estimated 1.5 million students. With the average yearly cost of $7,605 per year for tuition and fees at a public four-year college, the cut in Pell Grants is about equal to the cost of an entire semester-long class per student. For students at a two-year college, the cut is almost a third of the tuition for a full-time student for a year. Cuts in financial aid mean that it takes students longer to complete their degrees, which delays them from entering the workforce and contributing to economic growth.

The $5 billion cut to education is an abstract number until you realize just how many children and young adults would be affected. In addition to impacting a huge number of students, the bill would force the children who need the most help to bear the lion’s share of these cuts. As the fight over H.R. 1 continues, let’s hope members of Congress recognize the human costs of budget cuts and keep the best interests of our most vulnerable children in mind.

Diana Epstein is an Education Policy Analyst at American Progress.