Gridlock in Congress threatens Ohio programs

Columbus Dispatch - March 14, 2012

David Eggert

Automatic spending cuts triggered by gridlock on a bipartisan congressional “supercommittee” could cost Ohio nearly $313 million next year, with a large chunk being pulled from funds for poor students and those with special needs.

The overall reduction in federal funding for the state — 1 percent — might be small, but it would hit certain programs hard.

Head Start faces a nearly 9 percent cut. So do special-education grants for K-12 schools, work-study payments for needy college students and extra nutritional aid for low-income pregnant women and children, according to an analysis done last month by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. The study was revealed yesterday by a liberal policy group.

“It’s very disturbing,” said state Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, who asked for the report. “The state of Ohio needs to step up and figure out a way to make up the revenue shortfalls.”

The nonpartisan agency’s analysis was cited in a more detailed report issued yesterday by Policy Matters Ohio. The cuts that could take effect next year are “jarring,” according to the report, which noted that K-12 schools could lose $126 million at a time when they already are dealing with cuts in the current state budget.

Grants for special education would drop by $38 million, about 8.8 percent.

More than 2,000 elementary and secondary schools would lose $51 million in federal aid to meet No Child Left Behind standards. The Title I money can pay for tutors and can be used to hire instructors.

Policy Matters said Steubenville’s Wells Academy, the top-ranked public elementary school in the state that was honored with a visit from Gov. John Kasich for his State of the State address, receives Title I funds due to be cut.

The state recently sought a waiver from several provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, and it was not immediately clear how that decision would affect federal funding. A message seeking comment was left with a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

Unless Congress agrees on a new deficit-cutting plan, the country faces the specter of $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts during the next decade, including as much as $500 billion for the Department of Defense. The cuts scheduled to occur in January 2013 were planned once the supercommittee could not reach a deal on a longer-term deficit plan in November.

The timing of yesterday’s report probably was not coincidental, as Kasich is expected to unveil a plan today to cut the state’s income tax and pay for it with new taxes on shale drilling.

Republicans say tax cuts boost the economy, but Foley said “you can’t cut your way to prosperity.”

Wendy Patton, senior policy director at Policy Matters, said: “We’ve dramatically cut taxes to the wealthy and corporations at both the state and federal level. It is time to restore reasonable taxes on those earning $250,000 and above in Ohio, so that we can invest in our future and make up for these harmful federal cuts to our communities.”

About a third of Ohio’s budget is funded with federal dollars.

Gridlock in Congress threatens Ohio programs 

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