As School Year Begins, States Reel From Education Cuts

Most school districts are heading into their third straight year of funding cuts, and students will pay the price. The Center for Education Policy (CEP) and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), two independent think tanks, recently surveyed the national budget landscape and detailed the extent of deeply harmful, often unnecessary, cuts to education. Unnecessary because too state governments have failed to utilize, CBPP reports, “important tools in their budget-balancing toolkit.”

Consequently, the already fragile economic recovery is being undermined and job creation is grinding to a halt.

In an interview with the Education Writers Association in July, CEP President Jack Jennings said districts were able to soften the blow last year and the year before by using federal Recovery Act money. They also put off textbook purchases, building maintenance, and other spending. But now, the federal money is almost all gone, and state funding still hasn’t recovered. So this year, Jennings said, “They’re cutting into counselors, they’re laying off teachers of reading and math, they’re cutting into the core of education.”

“A grim situation is expected to worsen,” CEP warned in its report. The cuts will affect “all types of districts—city, suburban, town, and rural.”

“When parents send their kids to school this fall, there are going to be larger class sizes, there are going to be fewer librarians, there are going to be fewer assistants to help teachers and kids,” Jennings said.

“School is going to be different this fall.”

Nearly 85 percent of districts are expecting funding cuts for the 2011-12 school year. For the past few years, federal emergency recovery funds made up at least part of the shortfall in state and local revenues caused by the steep recession, but that won’t happen again. “Most districts have reached the dreaded ‘funding cliff’” with no more of the extra federal funds left, the report says.

Nearly two-thirds of districts will have to cope with cuts in state and local funding of five percent or more. Another fifth of districts will have smaller cuts.

As long as it lasted, the extra federal dollars did save jobs. And 90 percent of districts reported they were better off because that money was available to help cushion the fall in local and state revenues. But now it is all spent for most districts, and rapidly running out for the rest.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes how the appetite for tax cuts in some states have made already dire budget conditions even worse. Twelve states with budget shortfalls, including North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan, passed significant tax cuts in 2010 and 2011. Many of these measures were designed to benefit not working families, but wealthy individuals and large corporations. If states didn’t enact tax cuts, some are allowing temporary tax increases to expire.

To help make up the shortfall created by less revenues, legislatures have been cutting deeper and deeper into education – while still refusing to even close tax loopholes that corporations exploit to escape paying state income tax.

The National Education Association believes states need to take a more balanced approach, calling on lawmakers to first close tax loopholes that favor these corporations before more cuts are made to public education and other critical services.

For state-by-state information on tax subsidies and loopholes, visit Accountable USA, a web site co-sponsored by the National Education Association.

Read the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report on state budget cuts.