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Federal cuts affect poorest Kansas schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas school districts face the loss of about $7.2 million this coming school year in federal funding for its high-poverty schools, according to the state Department of Education.

In a letter notifying school districts of the cuts Thursday, the department described the losses in Title I funding as "major." The department said 5 percent was cut because of the required federal budget cuts, and 0.2 of a percent because of a smaller total allocation from Congress.

Title I funding pays for teaching staff and services at high-poverty schools, including extra math and reading teachers who help children who are struggling academically. The money also funds after-school programs.

The federal government distributes Congress' Title I allocation based on the poverty levels of districts' student bodies, and the poverty figures for Kansas hadn't grown as much as in most other states, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/18nOamB).

Tammy Austin, executive director of administration for the Topeka Unified School District 501, said cuts in Title I for her district were equivalent to 13 teachers' salaries and benefits.

"It's devastating," Austin said. "What's difficult is you're expecting something, and then it's not there, and something's got to give."

Austin said USD 501 had been planning for a potential loss of 8 percent of its Title I money but is now losing 9.25 percent. The district had expected to absorb cuts through staff attrition and hopes that will be possible. But she said the district hasn't had time to assess the situation.

The state education department is facing its own cuts in Title I funds and estimates it's losing about $100,000 for administration related to Title I programs. The department also said the cuts will mean $1.4 million less in funding used to help schools that have either low scores on state math and reading tests or wide achievement gaps in their student body.

Brenda Dietrich, superintendent of USD 437, said the impact of the cuts to her district wasn't clear yet.

"It is going to require us to analyze our current expenditures and make some decisions based on where the greatest need is," Dietrich said, "and then link the dollars we have left to fund our priorities."