PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As lawmakers debate what to do about the impending fiscal cliff, we’re starting to get a better understanding of just what is at stake, including education.

Federal education programs face significant budget cuts unless Congress and the President intervene, and for school districts like the Pittsburgh Public Schools, it could be catastrophic.

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Federal dollars have been used to help area school districts balance the gaps in their budgets for years; but now as Washington debts the future of those dollars, districts throughout our area are scrambling to figure out what to do after the first of the year.

Federal dollars can be used in a variety of different ways to supplement a school districts budget. Teachers, aids, tutors or Head Start programs to name a few.

But the money to pay for these programs may be cut from the federal budget beginning in 2013, and for urban school districts, the cuts are going to hurt.

“We have a lot of federal funds and that could amount to an eight to 10 percent reduction in what those funds might be, so that’s millions of dollars for us,” said Dr. Linda Lane, the superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools.

“We primarily use the federal funds to pay for reading specialists, literacy coaches, behavior management specialists, and also to help us with some of reading resources,” added Dr. Alan Johnson, the superintendent of the Woodland Hills School District. “So, we’ve tried to keep classroom teachers out of it as much as we could.”

How the federal dollars are allocated varies from district to district. The one thing that seems universal is that a loss of the money will affect quality of learning.

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North Hills School District plans to look at the impact of cuts at next week’s board meeting.

The Pittsburgh School Board is planning to vote to oppose the “sequestration” to send a message to Washington.

“We’re asking Congress not to do it,” said Dr. Lane. “We’re asking them to find a solution that does not send us over a cliff.”

In Woodland Hills, parents and the community have voiced concerns on a state level, and the superintendent says they may need to speak out again to keep the money in play.

“We really don’t know from one year to the next if we’re going to be able to develop a budget that will keep out schools open,” said Dr. Johnson.

Which is another concern, Pittsburgh Public Schools, which is on track to run out of money by 2015, is addressing that issue this evening in the first annual State of the District address.

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Lynne Hayes-Freeland