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Capitol Report: March 7, 2013

Capitol ReportBy Della B. Cronin

Despite the implementation of sequestration, Washington, D.C., is still here. But it could be showing a little bit of wear and tear. As has been much written about and discussed, on March 1, the sequestration that enacts automatic spending cuts across the federal government took effect. Since then, education and research advocates have been scrambling for information on what will really happen. Sequestration was such an abstract concept and a consequence so severe that many hoped it would not come to pass. Now that it has, once again, it is math that is at the heart of determining the real effects.

Now that the sequester has been triggered, agencies have two months to develop a clear path forward under the across-the-board cuts. New information comes out daily regarding how each individual agency will make the reductions. As for programs administered by the Department of Education (ED), such as Title I funds for poor schools and districts, and campus-based aid programs for college students, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be sending letters to governors this week, letting them know what to expect in terms of program cuts. Because many of the programs that affect K–12 education are forward funded, the cuts will not affect these programs until the allocations that are scheduled for July—meaning that the cuts will affect resources for the 2013–14 school year, and not the current one. For the competitive grant programs that the agency oversees, current grantees won’t see any cuts. Cuts will come out of FY 2013 (the current fiscal year) funds, but the plan is not to cut continuation grants from multi-year grants but to reduce funding for new grants or contracts. After some analysis, some in the education community assert that the reductions in K–12 spending will be particularly painful in North Dakota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Idaho, and South Dakota—the five states that rely most heavily on federal education money.

As for higher education programs, the Department of Education has no authority to waive or change the campus-based allocation formulas that drive awards. Additional guidance for Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grants is coming, and College Access Challenge Grants are subject to the sequester-required 5.1 percent cut, since the program that administers these grants is funded by mandatory dollars. For the TRIO programs, ED expects every grant to be cut by 5 percent. Student loan borrowers will also be affected almost immediately, since loan origination fees on federal direct loans will increase for new loans disbursed after March 1. For Stafford loans, the fee will increase from 1 percent to 1.051 percent; for PLUS loans, the fee will increase from 4.0 percent to 4.24 percent. The National Science Foundation has announced that cuts will affect future awardees—in that there will be fewer of them. Current grants shouldn’t be affected. Those institutions that receive significant federal dollars for research programs and other efforts from NSF and other agencies should be checking in directly with those agencies.

While the discussions related to spending multiply, there are other pieces of policy under consideration that are important to math teachers and math teacher educators. Members of Congress are busy introducing pieces of legislation that they would like to see considered during the 113th Congress, and NCTM has been asked to weigh in on a number of STEM education proposals, including the two Master Teacher Corps proposals being forwarded by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and the White House. A number of other senators and representatives are discussing proposals that would affect the teaching and learning of math and other disciplines, and NCTM is communicating with their offices to make sure that its members’ interests are considered in these initiatives. Stay tuned!

Della B. Cronin is with Washington Partners, LLC

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