Budget cuts will land blow to education

Florida could lose $54.5M for schools, 750 teaching positions

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Sequestration budget cuts set to go into effect at midnight Saturday won't just affect military and government spending. They'll also hurt students in the classroom.

School officials say education cuts won't happen Monday, but they are preparing for a major blow.

The White House is predicting Florida could lose $54.5 million for schools and 750 teaching positions, such as teacher's aides.

On Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller was in Jacksonville speaking at Mayor Alvin Brown's education summit. He said it's wrong to be cutting education at this time.

"Putting teacher jobs at risk, impacting lots of children from Head Start to lose their opportunity in early learning, which is important to get them kindergarten-ready," Miller said. "We know it's impacting students in K-12 and teachers in K-12. We think it's the wrong thing."

The government is predicting services for 2,700 Head Start students in Florida will be lost.

"The loss in funding will affect the most at-risk students or the most likely to be at risk without the right type of intervention," Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Florida, said a lot of attention has been paid to military and other agencies, but she said while those are important, students are too.

"I always said if you take care of the children and the elderly people, the rest of us can take care of ourself," Brown said.

Early learning centers a casualty of cuts

Kids Inc. runs six early learning centers in three north Florida counties. The centers are bracing for a $24 million cut to programs that serve primarily disadvantaged communities and prepare children for school.

As sequestration negotiations were breaking down in Washington D.C. on Friday, Judie Miller was talking with a parent about options as the program braces for a 10 percent cut.

Fewer hours of early learning mean fewer options for new mom Claretta Domingos.

"Probably prevent a job as far as me getting a job sooner," Domingos said. "And it will probably limit a lot of the curriculum exposure that my son gets here already."

The ratio in her son's classroom is one teacher for every four students. Staff is by far the biggest line item in the program's budget.

"Worst case scenario would be we would have to close a center, and that would put a minimum of 24 families to 60 families, depending upon which center would be closed," said Miller, of Kids Inc. "And 15 staff members."

Nationwide, 70,000 kids are going to be cut from readiness programs. The irony for this center is it already has more kids on the waiting list than the number of kids it's serving.

And the kids who don't develop learning skills early at the center will end up needing remediation once they get to kindergarten or first grade, creating a case of pay now or pay later.

The six centers go through 123,000 diapers each year, a necessity difficult to cut.

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