What Would Sequestration Mean for Adult Education?

(Updated Below)

In less than six months, more than 200,000 adults across the country may be facing the possibility of losing adult education services sometime in 2013, and as many as 730 adult education jobs in community colleges, community-based organizations, and public schools could be eliminated. (But see update below.)

These numbers come from an analysis just released by the National Education Association (NEA) on the potential consequences of sequestration on public education. Sequestration is the term used to describe the automatic federal budget cuts that are scheduled to kick in on January 1st, 2013, unless Congress passes some kind of legislation to defer, alter or avert it. Right now these cuts are required by a law that this same Congress passed just last summer—the Budget Control Act (BCA)—which raised the federal debt ceiling in return for an immediate federal budget cut of $900 billion and a commitment to come up with a plan (which could include spending cuts and/or tax increases) to reduce the federal budget deficit by another $1.2 trillion by 2021. The plan was supposed to come from a so-called  Congressional “super committee”—if they failed (and they did), automatic budget cuts were required in both defense and non-defense discretionary spending, beginning on January 1st of 2013, with across-the-board cuts to virtually every federal discretionary program (a few are exempted).

The NEA’s analysis of the impact this would have on adult education includes not only a national estimate, but state-by-state estimates as well. (NEA actually provides two estimates for the country and for each state. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that nonexempt programs would be reduced by 7.8 pecent in 2013; an analysis conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that nonexempt, nondefense discretionary programs and nonexempt mandatory programs would be reduced by 8.4 percent and 8 percent, respectively.)

I asked the author of this analysis, Tom Zembar, about his methodology and he did point out that it’s impossible to know exactly how states and providers would actually react and readjust services once the cuts go into effect, but the point of the analysis was to help people understand the potential consequences of the cut in each state. I’ve included a reproduction of the first page of the adult education analysis below; click on the link to go to the full report. This page, and the state-by-state table that follows, are towards the end.NEA: Impact of Sequestration on Adult Education

UPDATE 8/1/12: A couple of clarifying points:

(1) First, in my lead, for the sake of being dramatic, I strongly created the impression that FY2013 funds will be cut instantaneously on January 1st. I should have pointed out that Adult Education under WIA Title II is a forward-funded program, meaning that funds don’t become available for obligation until July 1st of the fiscal year in which they are appropriated. On the other hand, since states start their budget process over the winter based on the amounts they expect to receive from federal programs later in July, I believe the impact of sequestration would start to work its way into proposed state budgets for adult education pretty quickly,  even if the actual federal reductions might not be felt until later in the year.

(2) Which brings me to my second clarifying point: no one can know with certainty what states are actually going to do once they get their sequestered numbers. I assume that any reduction in the Title II state grants resulting from sequestration would trigger an equivalent reduction in the state’s match and maintenance of effort obligations—but I don’t know exactly how that will work. In any case, a state could, conceivably, respond to the reduction in the federal grant by raising their state’s investment in adult education to offset the cut. I think that’s doubtful, at least on a widespread basis. It seem more likely to me that the NEA estimates above—which, for simplicity’s sake, don’t factor in potential state reductions, but just focus on the student service cuts and job losses resulting from the federal cutprobably underestimate the actual reduction in both services and jobs in most states if sequestration moves forward.

UPDATE 11/15/12: I’ve re-worded the opening paragraph for the reasons noted in the update above.