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Richmond County schools try to gauge "fiscal cliff"

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School districts across Geor­gia are preparing to find out how the “fiscal cliff” could affect classrooms.

In school districts such as Rich­mond County that rely heavily on federally funded programs for low-income and disabled children, the impact could be big.

“All that money we get for federal grants will be affected,” said Richmond County Board of Education member Frank Dolan.

School districts understand that federal money to states could be cut if Congress doesn’t reach a deal and the country sees higher taxes and federal spending cuts, according to Georgia De­part­ment of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza.

In response, Cardoza said, the state has told all school districts to expect a 9 percent reduction in funding for low-income students in the Title I program and funds for disabled students in the 2013-14 budget.

“My gut feeling is when the feds start cutting, it’s going to be bad either way,” said board member Jack Padg­ett, who said 27 percent of the Richmond County school budget comes from the federal government.

Another concern for education funding is a possible 3 percent cut to state agencies, including the Department of Education, that could be implemented when Gov. Nathan Deal presents an amended budget for the current fiscal year in January.

Deal asked all state agencies to submit an amended budget with 3 percent reductions. Though all might not go into effect, Cardoza said the Education Department is prepared.

The department cuts would not affect QBE, or Equalization, funding, which is the bulk of money given to districts. Still, a lot of unknowns remain at this point, said Alan Essig, the executive director of the Georgia Bud­get and Policy Institute.

“It’s fair to say the state is still facing some significant shortfalls, both in the current fiscal year and the fiscal year upcoming,” Essig said.

According to state Sen. Jack Hill, the chairman of the Sen­ate Appropriations Com­mittee, the fiscal 2013 state budget was built with projections of about 5 percent growth in collections over last year. The state has collected less than that estimate, creating a deficit.

“The revenue growth is slow,” Essig added. “The question is, what options does the governor have to cover the shortfalls?”


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