School may be out> for the summer, but across the country school boards are now wrestling with mammoth budget shortfalls that will require painful cuts in the upcoming year.
Their own budgets in shambles, many states are inflicting deep reductions in K-12 funding. At the same time, local property tax revenue has waned because the housing market s collapse slashed residential property values. The losses were particularly heavy in big-bubble states, including California, Arizona and Florida. Economists estimate the broader housing market won t fully recover for years, which could put a dent in school districts coffers for the foreseeable future. That deficit is forcing many of the nation s 14,300 school districts to make harsh cuts. School officials are telling parents that programs and resources they have come to expect will be pared down or eliminated.
Of course, small fluctuations in municipal budgets can always leave a field trip cancelled or a playground scrubbed, but this recession has exacted a far greater toll on public education. Many schools are scaling back academic programs or closing altogether because of financial hardship, according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators on the impact of the economic downturn. For instance, 44% of schools surveyed are increasing class size for the 2009-10 academic year, up from 13% the year before. The percentage of schools eliminating enrichment programs and other nonacademic courses will rise to 27%, up threefold from last year. And more schools are doing away with field trips, deferring textbook purchases and reducing elective classes.
Some budget shortfalls are being filled by federal aid. The federal stimulus package has funneled about $100 billion to states for education funding the largest single federal outlay for education in U.S. history, says Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit advocacy organization that studies school funding. If it weren t for the stimulus money, these would be the worst cutbacks in education since the Depression, he says. It s what s saving the schools from disaster.
The cutbacks are not necessarily permanent and in fact may save some schools and services in the long run. Making cuts earlier rather than later can mitigate future financial trouble, says Arturo P rez, a fiscal analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. By making reductions, you are essentially providing a future savings to the program. If school districts were to face another year of weak tax revenues and leave their budgets untouched, then the problem compounds itself, he says.
Here s a look at some of the things that public-school students will be missing out on come September.
Bands and Music Programs Silenced
At many schools, library services, counselors and extracurricular activities like sports, band and art clubs may be curtailed or eliminated. Even curriculums are being stripped to the bare minimum because schools typically cut enrichment courses first to avoid laying off teachers, Jennings says.
For example, all three elementary schools in the Phoenix/Talent district in southern Oregon have lost their music teachers, a move that will impact 1,200 students, says Dori Brattain, deputy executive director of the Oregon School Board Association. As of now, no concerts are budgeted for the next school year, but the PTA is trying to raise funds to resurrect the music program, she says. In Arizona, Higley Unified school district is scaling back its sports program back by 60% because of budget cuts, says Janice Palmer, director of government relations at the Arizona School Boards Association. That means the football, baseball and girls soccer teams will be playing with old uniforms and equipment, and ballfields won t be maintained.
Desks Inch Closer Together
In California, 27,000 teachers have been laid off already, with more expected soon. In total, these layoffs amount to cutting 15% of the state's public school teachers, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fewer teachers means bigger classes. For instance, the San Jose Unified School District is considering increasing its class sizes to 30 students from kindergarten through second grade, up from 20 last year, in order to save the district at least $6 million.
Class size increases in Massachusetts are particularly pronounced at the elementary-grade level, says Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. For instance, some second-grade classes in the Asburnham-Westminster Regional School District will get bumped to 25 students next year, up from about 21 now.
California s public school system whose per-pupil expenditures were already below the national average is getting hit with some nasty cuts, thanks in large part to the state s $24 billion budget gap, says Brian Edwards, senior policy analyst at EdSource, a nonprofit education and research group in Mountain View, Calif. In response, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed slashing $5.3 billion from K-12 education funding, making summer school a luxury most districts can t afford.
In May, the Los Angeles Unified School District said it would cancel the bulk of its summer programs, and the consequences will no doubt be hard felt. Parents who otherwise would enroll their kids in a summer program will have to find child care; many students won t be able to take courses required to graduate, and others will miss an opportunity to prepare for next year.
Cut in Bus Service
Heavy cutbacks in transportation will make life tougher on students and parents next year. The number of schools cutting bus transportation routes rose to 23% for the 2009-2010 school year, up from 14% last year, according to the American Association of School Administrators survey.
The Novato Unified School District in California s Marin County is cutting bus service for most of its students as part of a $647,000 cost-cutting measure. Meanwhile, other districts are hitting students and their parents with transportation fees. Students living within two miles of their school in Lakeville, Minn., will have to pay $150 a year for bus service starting in September. (Students living two or more miles from their school get free transportation, according to state law.)
Athletes Will Pay to Play
Playing sports is getting pricier at many schools next year. Students in the Asburnham-Westminster district in Massachusetts will have to shell out $195 a year for every sport they play up from $170 now. And in Colorado, the Boulder Valley Board of Education agreed to increase high school and middle school athletic fees to retain the district s six high school athletic trainers. That means high school athletes will pay $185 for each sport they play, up 37% from last year. Intramural fees at the middle school are also set to rise.