American education under attack

Budget pressures at the state and federal level have led to slashed education programs and rising tuition at state universities.

By , Guest blogger

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    President Obama peers through a microscope while touring classrooms at a community college in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Dec. 6. Obama has called for more spending on education, but the budget deficit makes education cuts more likely. States are cutting education funding as well, from pre-K through community colleges and state universities.
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Over the long term, the only way we’re going to raise wages, grow the economy, and improve American competitiveness is by investing in our people — especially their educations.

You’ve probably seen the reports. American students rank low on international standards of educational performance. Too many of ours schools are failing. Too few young people who are qualified for college or post-secondary education have the opportunity.

I’m not one of those who thinks the only way to fix what’s wrong with American education is to throw more money at it. We also need to do it much better. Teacher performance has to be squarely on the table. We should experiment with vouchers whose worth is inversely related to family income. Universities have to tame their budgets, especially for student amenities that have nothing to do with education.

Recommended: 10 must-read books about higher education in America

But considering the increases in our population of young people and their educational needs, and the challenges posed by the new global economy, more resources are surely needed.

Here’s another reason why the $858 billion tax bill — including a continuation of the Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans and a dramatic drop in their estate taxes — is so dangerous. By further widening the federal budget deficit, it invites even more budget cuts in education, including early-childhood and post-secondary. Pell Grants that allow young people from poor families to attend college are already on the chopping block.

Less visible are cuts the states are already making in their schools budgets. Because these cuts are at the state level they’ve been under the national radar screen, but viewed as a whole they seriously threaten the nation’s future.

Here’s a summary:

* Arizona has eliminated preschool for 4,328 children, funding for schools to provide additional support to disadvantaged children from preschool to third grade, aid to charter schools, and funding for books, computers, and other classroom supplies. The state also halved funding for kindergarten, leaving school districts and parents to shoulder the cost of keeping their children in school beyond a half-day schedule.

* California has reduced K-12 aid to local school districts by billions of dollars and is cutting a variety of programs, including adult literacy instruction and help for high-needs students.

* Colorado has reduced public school spending in FY 2011 by $260 million, nearly a 5 percent decline from the previous year. The cut amounts to more than $400 per student.

* Georgia has cut state funding for K-12 education for FY 2011 by $403 million or 5.5 percent relative to FY 2010 levels. The cut has led the state’s board of education to exempt local school districts from class size requirements to reduce costs.

* Hawaii shortened the 2009-10 school year by 17 days and furloughed teachers for those days.

* Illinois has cut school education funding by $241 million or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. Cuts include a significant reduction in funding for student transportation and the elimination of a grant program intended to improve the reading and study skills of at-risk students from kindergarten through the 6th grade.

* Maryland has cut professional development for principals and educators, as well as health clinics, gifted and talented summer centers, and math and science initiatives.

* Michigan has cut its FY 2010 school aid budget by $382 million, resulting in a $165 per-pupil spending reduction.

* Over the course of FY10, Mississippi cut by 7.2 percent funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a program established to bring per-pupil K-12 spending up to adequate levels in every district.

* Massachusetts has cut state education aid by $115.6 million, or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. It also made a $4.6 million, or 16 percent cut relative to FY 2010 levels to funding for early intervention services, which help special-needs children develop appropriately and be ready for school.

* Missouri is cutting its funding for K-12 transportation by 46 percent. The cut in funding likely will lead to longer bus rides and the elimination of routes for some of the 565,000 students who rely on the school bus system.

* New Jersey has cut funding for afterschool programs aimed to enhance student achievement and keep students safe between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. The cut will likely cause more than 11,000 students to lose access to the programs and 1,100 staff workers to lose their jobs.

* North Carolina cut by 21 percent funding for a program targeted at small schools in low-income areas and with a high need for social workers and nurses. As a result, 20 schools will be left without a social worker or nurse. The state also temporarily eliminated funding for teacher mentoring.

* Rhode Island cut state aid for K-12 education and reduced the number of children who can be served by Head Start and similar services.

* Virginia’s $700 million in cuts for the coming biennium include the state’s share of an array of school district operating and capital expenses and funding for class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade. In addition, a $500 million reduction in state funding for some 13,000 support staff such as janitors, school nurses, and school psychologists from last year’s budget was made permanent.

* Washington suspended a program to reduce class sizes and provide professional development for teachers; the state also reduced funding for maintaining 4th grade student-to-staff-ratios by $30 million.

* State education grants to school districts and education programs have also been cut in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah.

Meanwhile, at least 43 states have implemented cuts to public colleges and universities and/or made large increases in college tuition to make up for insufficient state funding.

* Alabama’s fiscal year 2011 cuts to higher education have led to 2010-11 tuition hikes that range from 8 percent to 23 percent, depending on the institution.

* Arizona’s Board of Regents approved in-state undergraduate tuition increases of between 9 and 20 percent as well as fee increases at the state’s three public universities. Additionally, the three state universities must implement a 2.75 percent reduction in state-funded salary spending and plan to do so through a variety of actions, such as academic reorganization, layoffs, furloughs, position eliminations, hiring fewer tenure-eligible faculty, and higher teaching workloads.

* The University of California has increased tuition by 32 percent and reduced freshman enrollment by 2,300 students; the California State University system cut enrollment by 40,000 students.

* Colorado funding for higher education was reduced by $62 million from FY 2010 and this has led to cutbacks at the state’s institutions. The University of Colorado system will lay off 79 employees in FY 2011 and has increased employee workloads and required higher employee contributions to health and retirement benefits.

* Florida’s 11 public universities will raise tuition by 15 percent for the 2010-11 academic year. This tuition hike, combined with a similar increase in 2009-10, results in a total two-year increase of 32 percent.

* Georgia has cut state funding for public higher education for FY2011 by $151 million, or 7 percent. As a result, undergraduate tuition for the fall 2010 semester at Georgia’s four public research universities (Georgia State, Georgia Tech, the Medical College of Georgia, and the University of Georgia) will increase by $500 per semester, or 16 percent. Community college tuition will increase by $50 per semester.

* The University of Idaho has responded to budget cuts by imposing furlough days on 2,600 of its employees statewide. Furloughs will range from 4 hours to 40 hours depending on pay level.

* Indiana’s cuts to higher education have caused Indiana State University to plan to lay off 89 staff.

* Michigan has reduced student financial aid by $135 million (over 61 percent), including decreases of 50 percent in competitive scholarships and 44 percent in tuition grants, as well as elimination of nursing scholarships, work-study, the Part-Time Independent Student Program, Michigan Education Opportunity Grants, and the Michigan Promise Scholarships.

* In Minnesota, as a result of higher education funding cuts, approximately 9,400 students will lose their state financial aid grants entirely, and the remaining state financial aid recipients will see their grants cut by 19 percent.

* Missouri’s fiscal year 2011 budget reduces by 60 percent funding for the state’s only need-based financial aid program, which helps 42,000 students access higher education. This cut was partially restored with other scholarship money, but will still result in a cut of at least 24 percent to need-based aid.

* New Mexico has eliminated over 80 percent of support to the College Affordability Endowment Fund, which provides need-based scholarships to 2,366 students who do not qualify for other state grants or scholarships.

* New York’s state university system has increased resident undergraduate tuition by 14 percent beginning with the spring 2009 semester.

* In North Carolina, University of North Carolina students will see their tuition rise by $750 in the 2010-2011 school year and community college students will see their tuition increase by $200 due to fiscal year 2011 reductions in state higher education spending.

* South Dakota’s fiscal year 2011 budget cuts state support for public universities by $6.5 million and as a result the Board of Regents has increased university tuition by 4.6 percent and cut university programs by $4.4 million.

* Texas has instituted a 5 percent across-the-board budget cut that reduced higher education funding by $73 million.

* Virginia’s community colleges implemented a tuition increase during the spring 2010 semester.

* Washington has reduced state funding for the University of Washington by 26 percent for the current biennium. Washington State University is increasing tuition by almost 30 percent over two years. In its supplemental budget, the state cut 6 percent more from direct aid to the state’s six public universities and 34 community colleges, which will lead to further tuition increases, administrative cuts, furloughs, layoffs, and other cuts. The state also cut support for college work-study by nearly one-third and suspended funding for a number of its financial aid programs.

* Other states that are cutting higher education operating funding and financial aid include Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Have we gone collectively out of our minds? Our young people — their capacities to think, understand, investigate, and innovate — are America’s future. In the name of fiscal prudence we’re endangering that future.

In January, Republicans take over the House and its appropriations committees. What would it take for them to reinstitute counter-cyclical revenue sharing that would help the states restore some or all funding for education? Can you imagine the White House and Senate Dems putting this at the top of their 2011 agenda? Is it possible this could be a bi-partisan effort?

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. This post originally ran on www.robertreich.org.

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