To see how sequestration will directly hurt American families, look no further than public schools. At 17 percent of the federal non-discretionary funding budget, according to Congressional Budget Office figures, education will be hit with deep cuts to key programs. Specifically, in Georgia, school districts will lose an estimated $50 million in education grants and more than $10 million in Head Start funding.
With no remedy, policy analysts worry that upcoming federal cuts will hemorrhage the state’s budget, causing a shortage in critical services that help disadvantaged families and their children thrive.
“We may not be able to supply the kinds of supports the kids need,” said Dr. Philip D. Lanoue, superintendent of Clarke County School District. “We cannot make it all the way if we cannot educate health children.”
At the nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s Spring Policy Forum, Lanuoe argued that cutbacks to critical supports such as Head Start, early learning, and nutrition hurt family engagement opportunities that allow districts to build rapport with the most disadvantaged students. Districts like his, which support 82 percent of their students with free and reduced lunch, would be challenged to fulfill the needs these programs provide, in addition to their normal operating budgets.
Despite potential cuts, Lanoue argued that the need for accountability within public school systems is important, but must not be at the expense of punishing students.
“We need to transform, we need to change. We know that education is a game changer,” Lanoue said. “But, don’t test on the backs of our children. Don’t privatize on the backs of our children.”
Federal budget deficits also carry over into services that supplement a well-educated student, including food, and social programs provided by public and private organizations.
Bill Bolling, executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which has distributed more than 35 million pounds of food across 29 Georgia counties, said transformative tools of engagement between all community sectors are needed to supplement the increasing need of the type of services his organization provides in anticipation of future demand.
ACF’s school supply program, which services 300 schools and thousands of teachers, has mushroomed in the last 10 years, according to Bolling. Food distribution, which is ACF’s primary component, has doubled in the last four years. With a staff of 130 and 1200 volunteers a month, the need for food has outpaced the resources of the food bank.
“We’re focusing on wellness and health promotion, not just pounds of food,” said Bolling.
For the state’s public school students and their families, this means developing partnerships with local PTAs and schools, as well as promoting community gardens.
“When we look at health in a systemic way, in that sense, everything’s connected to everything else,” Bolling continued.
Health and wellness becomes a major factor in academic achievement and is often a hidden consequence of budget cuts that affect schoolchildren. Regular checkups, medical service and hunger, Lanuoe noted, completely affect the ability of a child to function in a school environment.
With limited local and state revenues, Georgia’s philanthropic efforts are also hemorrhaging funds trying to help shore up losses in the nonprofit sector. The problem is those sources are often tapped out from what they can give. It then becomes necessary to look at the financial stability and structure of a particular foundation in relation to the scope of its service and need.
“There aren’t a lot of folks that are really looking ahead,” said Lesley Grady, senior vice president of community partnerships for the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
The key, Grady said, is to push for partnerships and leveraging to replace lost dollars. Individuals and grassroots organizations should engage state legislators and actively engage in the political process to be sure voices are being heard at the state capitol.
Bolling echoed the same sentiments. Key relationships with senators at state and federal levels encourage necessary conversations and an understanding of the pressures each group faces.
“It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone, but we’ve got to educate ourselves,” Bolling said. “Learn the language of the business community and the institutions of government; we’ve got to find common interests.”