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Oregon schools fret about automatic budget cuts

SALEM (AP) — Oregon school districts warned Friday that automatic federal budget cuts would likely carve deepest into their programs for poor, disabled and non-English speaking students.

Education budgets aren’t likely to see a hit before the end of this school year, but as students return from summer vacation, Head Start preschool, full-day kindergarten and special education are all at risk, officials said.

“What we think would be impacted are some of the areas that provide services to students with the greatest needs and the greatest vulnerabilities,” said Kerry Delf, a spokeswoman for the Eugene School District. “Students with special needs, students living in poverty.”

A wide variety of other Oregon programs from the federal government also could be diminished as $85 billion in budget cuts are phased in. Those include Crater Lake, forestland firefighting, child immunizations and air traffic controllers at small airports.

Officials cautioned that the exact nature of the cuts is still unknown and they could be changed or averted if Congress and President Barack Obama reach an agreement to avoid them.

In the meantime, however, schools are preparing budgets for next school year and must be prepared to go without some of their federal funding.

Oregon schools get most of their money from the state. Federal dollars help beef up funding for higher-needs students through programs like Head Start, a low-income preschool program; Title I, which boosts funding at low-income schools; and special education.

The Oregon Department of Education estimates that the state will lose $23 million in federal education funding, risking jobs for dozens of teachers and aides. Schools stand to lose $10.2 million in funding for high-poverty primary and secondary schools and $6.4 million in federal funding for special education, according to the department’s estimates.

Districts are required by law provide services to students with disabilities, so special-education cuts would likely be offset by cuts to other educational programs, Oregon officials said.

Funding for teacher education and English-language learners could be cut by about $3.5 million, state officials estimate, and hundreds of students are expected to be removed from pre-school programs such as Head Start and Early Head start, which will lose $3 million.

If the anticipated 5 percent funding cut holds, about 600 Oregon students will be dropped from Head Start, said Annie Soto, director of Lane County’s Head Start program.

The Salem-Keizer School District already has 200 students on a waiting list for Head Start, said Sue Rieke-Smith, the director of instructional services.

“It’s certainly not going to get any easier to meet the needs of those kiddos,” Rieke-Smith said.

Portland Public Schools says 340 students attended summer school last year based on Title I funding, and administrators may have to scale back summer school offerings this year.

“Programs and supports like summer school, reading specialists and Head Start give some of our most vulnerable and our most struggling students the learning skills they need to set them up for success throughout school,” Melissa Goff, director of Teaching and Learning for Portland Public Schools, said in a statement.

Oregon universities could see reductions in student financial aid and research, said Di Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Oregon University System. Administrators are waiting to hear how deep the cuts will be and how quickly they’ll be phased in, she said.

Because Oregon doesn’t have a major presence of military bases or defense contractors, the state’s fragile economic recovery is somewhat insulated from the cuts, State Economist Mark McMullen said earlier this month.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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