School budget cuts across the US projected for next academic year
As state and local governments slash spending and federal stimulus dries up, school budget cuts for the next academic year could be the worst in a generation.
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The Piscataway, N.J., schools, which serve a diverse population of 7,000 students, lost $5 million in state aid from a $105 million budget. The result: 59 teachers and staff laid off, no more middle school athletics or freshman teams, and no more foreign languages in elementary school. It also cut its successful Summer Academy and Saturday Academy, both of which aimed to close achievement gaps.Skip to next paragraph
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"I'm not going to say losing these programs is going to stop us doing what we need to do, but it's made it a heck of a lot harder," says Piscataway superintendent Robert Copeland. The district had already eliminated inefficiencies to deal with previous cuts. "Now we're stuck with hanging onto what we've got in an atmosphere of wanton savaging of local school districts," he says. "We are running out of rabbits to pull out of the hat."
Nationally, 79 percent of district leaders express concern that the economic downturn impaired their ability to improve student achievement, according to the AASA survey.
The number of districts in the survey that are seriously considering reducing the school week to four days (13 percent) or ending summer school (34 percent) – often solutions of last resort – shows how bad the fiscal crisis is in many places, says Noelle Ellerson, an AASA policy analyst.
Illinois lawmakers are considering allowing districts to move to a four-day week. Jamaica School District superintendent Mark Janesky isn't planning such a shift right away, but he supports the idea, given the costs of transportation in rural areas like his. "We could save around $100,000, which is a lot for us," he says.
School administrators warn that the situation will only worsen as federal stimulus dollars run out next year.
"The [funds] were well needed, well appreciated, and put to good use in our districts ... but they're dollars with an expiration date approaching.... School districts are facing a steep cliff," Ms. Ellerson says.
Some education policy experts say more districts could be using the economic downturn as an opportunity to gain efficiencies – by changing teacher pay systems, for instance, or better tapping technology to deliver instruction.
"What we've not seen is much effort to get smart or creative or aggressive about rethinking the cost structure of public schooling," says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
For a new coalition of youth and parent activists, though, Tax Day on April 15 was the perfect opportunity to kick off a national "SOS: Save Our Schools" campaign to increase education funding.
"Our message is: Bail out schools, not the banks. Schools are what we need to invest in for our future," says Kimi Lee, coordinator of the Alliance for Educational Justice, a network based in Oakland, Calif., that organized the campaign.
Rallying at post offices in cities ranging from Boston to Wichita, Kan., students used props to symbolize education as a sinking ship. They passed out stickers depicting life preservers that read, "Invest my taxes in public education," so that supporters could send the message on their tax-return envelopes.