Oakland Local

Bay Area

Federal Budget Cuts Hit Low Income Oakland Students Hardest

Oakland Local

Federal sequestration would take money from reading instruction for kids, low income students and English learners.

The Melrose Leadership Academy elementary school in Oakland is bracing for losing one of its 15 teachers and the services of a reading specialist next September, thanks to the U.S. Congress and its sequestration.

Like just about every other school in the Oakland Unified School District, which serves a city where one third of children live in poverty, Melrose will feel the pinch of sequestration because it serves needy students. 

"It will mean less time helping students most in need of help with reading in first grade," said Melrose teacher Pat Kaplan. "We already had been cut so much it is hard to imagine it getting much worse."

Sequestration is the automatic cuts to all discretionary federal spending that was triggered when members of Congress could not agree on how to trim the federal deficit. Because it would be a painful blow to many Americans, but particularly the most needy, Congress figured it would never allow sequestration to happen. But as disagreement continued, it did.

Sequestration will slice Title I funds, which help schools educate low income and disadvantaged students. In Oakland, Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act brings $27 million into the schools.

It also will mean less money for teaching English language skills to limited English speakers, provided by Title III of NCLB, for teacher and principal training through Title II and for safety and drug free programs through Title IV.

One more area with high need kids will be hit by sequestration: Special education which receives $11.6 million in federal funding.

Together, these federally funded programs accounted for $60.9 million of Oakland Unified's $414 million budget last year or 15 percent. Put another way they provide $1,700 a student, according to the data site of the state education department. But all these programs for needy students and stressed schools will lose at least 5 percent under the sequestration formula, which for Oakland Unified will mean a slice of about $3 million.  

Most Oakland schools have English learners and low income children, as well as special education children, so they will feel sequestration in several areas of instruction. District administrators have told most schools that their budgets for next year will be tighter, reflecting the 5 percent cut in federal funding. 

The irony in California is that state money for education is finally being restored, after years of recession induced slashing and the governor wants to give extra funding to schools with low income and English learning students. But if the federal government slices that very kind of funding, schools won't be helped much.

"Schools with the highest needs are often underfunded by state and local districts, so when you make an additional cut it is doubly cruel," Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West in Oakland, said. 

Some military programs managed to escape sequestration, but not education, he said.

"Low income students and English learners don't have high paid lobbyists or advocacy organizations - and that's the way the system functions," Ramanathan said. "So when the cuts happen they are hurt. "

Nationwide, sequestration will take $2.5 billion out of education, what the National Committee for Education al Funding calls "the largest cut ever to education." The Committee is a consortium of 108 associations and universities.


Source: Oakland Local []

Become a KQED sponsor

About Our News Associate

Oakland Local is a non-profit news site that provides daily news and analysis by and for Oakland residents and leads digital trainings and events for low-income and under-served communities.

Follow KQED News on Facebook

Follow KQED News on Twitter

For the latest updates from KQED News, follow us on Twitter.