Friends don't let friends believe lazy LA Times articles about education budget cuts:
Last year, K-12 budgets were cut $1.8 billion nationwide. According to estimates by the National Assn. of State Budget Officers, cuts to K-12 for the new fiscal year may reach $2.5 billion.
"They've long since been cutting deep into the bone," said Michael Leachman of the nonpartisan Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, based in Washington.
CBPP may have an axe to grind here: they believe government costs what it costs and seem to have little interest in increasing the effectiveness of services. But it's too bad the Times didn't investigate these "historic cuts" a little more deeply.
The nation spends over $600 billion a year on K-12 education. So $4.3 billion in cumulative cuts over two years amounts to less than 1 percent of all spending. If you cut your household budget by 0.7%, would you call that "cutting deep into the bone"? No. Yet analysts and politicians are trying to sell you on the notion that schools can't absorb a 0.7% cut without getting rid of art, libraries, and thousands of teachers.
The truth is, the depth and impact of education budget cuts have varied from place to place. California has indeed seen harmful cuts, in part due to dysfunction in Sacramento and the intransigence of special interests. But the story need not be so dire.?The real question to ask is not why education budgets have seen
We're looking at a long weekend for politicians, journalists, and finance professionals as the debt ceiling fight goes into extra innings. The House leadership has delayed a vote on the Boehner plan due to dissension in the Republican rank and file, and odds for a major deal don't look great. What are the implications for education if a deal doesn't happen?
The most immediate impact will be that the wall of money flowing on a regular basis from the feds to state and local governments may stop, since bondholders will get priority if the debt ceiling is not raised. States will have to contend with a loss of Medicare and Medicaid support, typically the largest portions of state budgets along with education. It's hard to imagine this not impacting states' education spending. Even short delays may force districts that are living "check to check" with no reserves to borrow cash. Minnesota schools have already been forced to do this by the government shutdown there.
The longer-term impact, even if a deal is reached, would come from a ratings downgrade on America's debt. Districts routinely sell bonds to finance the construction or renovation of school buildings, and these bonds, like US Treasury bills, are rated by credit rating agencies. Moody's has warned that if US sovereign debt is downgraded, these so-called "muni" bonds would also be downgraded. This would cause interest rates to rise on many of these bonds,
David Cohen of the University of Michigan complains at the Shanker Institute blog that "niche reforms" like DC's (substantial) overhaul of its teacher evaluation and retention practices under Michelle Rhee are a distraction. Cohen dismisses IMPACT and similar reforms, saying we need to "fix the system" and build "infrastructure" instead.
Meanwhile, Newark Public Schools is under new management and is trying to end the "dance of the lemons," the practice by which bad teachers are shuffled from one poor-performing school to the next. Cami Anderson, the new district superintendent, has found that pulling these teachers out of the classroom is expensive in New Jersey:
[B]ecause of the state's tenure law, which guarantees a paycheck to teachers regardless of whether any principal wants to retain or hire them, Ms. Anderson's new policy will cost the district an extra $10 million to $15 million a year that will go to paying the teachers who are not able to find jobs within the district.
"In other words, by doing the right thing, we created a massive budget issue," she said. Newark schools have a $900 million budget and employ about 4,000 teachers.
Ten other states, including New York, have tenure laws that make it impossible to dismiss tenured teachers even when no principal wishes to hire them.
This puts the lie to David Cohen's argument. There is no amorphous education "system" that does not have teacher evaluation and retention at its core. Reforms like IMPACT in
Florida deserves kudos for protecting about $55 million in funding for charter facilities in the face of budget cuts, but they're catching a lot of flak from traditional school advocates, EdWeek reports:
School district officials across Florida are bemoaning the Legislature's decision to cut traditional public schools out of?PECO?the Public Education Capital Outlay program. The state's 350 charter schools will share $55 million, while the approximately 3,000 traditional schools will go without.
"Every cent allocated for school construction went to charter schools," complained Lee Swift, a Charlotte County school board member who heads the Florida School Boards Association.
Swift said lawmakers should focus on "properly funded traditional schools" instead of pressing for more charters that drain resources from the traditional schools.
Charters are growing around the state, however, and many districts are stagnating or losing enrollment. Districts have also been flush with cash for construction in recent years even as charters have received less funding. Last year's Ball State report on charter funding inequity states that districts in Florida "encumber funds or withhold local sources from total funds available before providing charter schools with their 'fair share.'" Charters were already getting a raw deal before this measure was passed.
Florida has done the sensible thing by protecting a growing and historically underfunded sector of its education system.?Traditional public schools will continue to tap local sources for construction and maintenance, revenues that charters don't have access to. Cutting all schools equally, or
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.