Will Congress actually allow sequestration to occur on March 1 – an action that would result over time in massive federal budget-cutting totaling $85 billion throughout the country?

Education budgets are among those at stake, and Dr. Beth Everitt and Shadie Hall are concerned. Everitt is the Aiken County School District’s superintendent, and Hall directs the Aiken-Barnwell Head Start program for children ages 3 and 4.

“I can’t imagine that these large cuts could happen without a lot of effort being made to protect the funds used for these students,” Everitt said.

Democrats on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee released a paper on economic risks Friday.

The proposed cuts would reduce in South Carolina $13.3 million in Title I grants – funds that assist all schools with high numbers of low-income students. Almost all Aiken County schools fall into that category.

The state would also lose $27.1 million in funding for special education students in the public schools.

With a potential reduction of $174,000 for her Head Start program, Hall might have to eliminate one of the Head Start community centers and cut transportation services.

“It amazes me that, as educated as our leadership in the country purports to be,” Hall said, “I can’t understand how they don’t see the importance of early education.”

Title I provides direct funding to classroom instruction – in part Reading Recovery teachers for struggling first-graders and teacher/interventionists for similar goals.

“Reading Recovery is a proven program that takes a lot of training,” said Everitt. “It serves a small number of students, but those teachers also work in classrooms with a ‘push-in’ model with the classroom teachers. It would be a real loss.”

The elimination of some special needs funding would be even more serious, Everitt said. Over several years, the S.C. General Assembly failed to meet federal guidelines for its “maintenance of effort” in support of special education allocations in the schools. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education reduced its federal funding to South Carolina by $36 million, apparently for perpetuity.

State legislators restored those funds for the state’s school districts in 2012-13. Early in the current session, they have not discussed doing so again in 2013-14.

“If we lost both, that could be devastating,” Everitt said.

The funding cuts for Head Start could amount to about six percent of the agency’s budget. Eliminating transportation would be a hardship for parents living in the rural areas of Gloverville, Monetta, Salley, Blackville and Barnwell, Hall said.

Gloverville might have to close under those circumstances, but Hall emphasized that Congress still has time to act to avoid such actions. Some personnel also could be laid off during the summer.

Hall has long been frustrated over some studies that contend Head Start is not preparing its young children for public school.

“The studies I’ve seen show that our children are ready for kindergarten and first grade,” she said. “We’ve gotten good response from our parents and the school districts.”