off the charts
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Could State Budget Problems Derail Education Reform?
As Congress considers whether to extend the state fiscal assistance in last year’s Recovery Act, it should keep in mind that without those funds, states will have a very hard time continuing their initiatives to improve their schools. Education is the single biggest item in state budgets. So when the recession triggered an unprecedented decline in state revenues, it’s not surprising that most states cut education spending to help close their shortfalls. Over the past two years, at least 29 states and the District of Columbia have cut K-12 spending and at least 39 states have cut funding, raised tuition, or both, for public colleges and universities. (Here are the specifics.) More cuts are on the way for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Proposed cuts include layoffs for nearly 22,000 teachers in California and 17,000 teachers in Illinois, while New Jersey is considering roughly $1 billion in cuts to K-12 and higher education. Continued cuts not only weaken the economic recovery — laid-off teachers don’t spend much in local stores, for example — and basic education programs, but also undermine the kinds of reforms that research suggests can make schools work better. Reforms like:
- Reducing class size. Twenty-three states have taken steps to bring class sizes below 20 students per classroom. But it’s hard to cut class size when you’re laying off teachers. In a recent survey of school administrators, 26 percent said they had increased class sizes for the 2009-10 school year and 62 percent expect to do so for the 2010-11 school year.
- Increasing learning time. More student learning time may improve achievement, but budget cuts are pushing many districts in the opposite direction. Hawaii’s schools are closing on Fridays because of teacher furloughs, and New Jersey is cutting back on afterschool programs. A third of the school administrators surveyed said they are considering eliminating summer school next year.
- Improving teacher quality. Research suggests that teacher quality is the most important determinant of student success. Unfortunately, many school districts have had to cut teacher wages and impose hiring freezes. Some have also cut funding for professional development.
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