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December 1, 2011
Vol. 69
No. 4

Double Take

Research Alert

The State of State Funding

  • Cuts at the state level mean that schools have to either cut services or raise additional revenue, or both. Reductions in formula funding may result in particularly deep cuts in state aid for poorer districts.
  • By August 2011, local school districts had cut 293,000 jobs nationally. These job losses have reduced the purchasing power of workers' families and thus contributed to extending the recession.
  • Deep funding cuts are undermining reform efforts. Although teacher quality is generally recognized as a crucial component of a quality education, budget cuts make it more difficult to expand teaching staff and provide ongoing professional development. Research also suggests that smaller class sizes can boost achievement in the elementary grades, yet fiscal pressures are resulting in larger class sizes at this level. Finally, many experts believe that extending student learning time—for example, through preschool, after-school, and summer programs—can improve student achievement, yet these programs are now particularly vulnerable to being cut. Undermining such reforms can do long-term damage to the U.S. economy.
  • Given the current condition of real estate markets in the United States, school districts have little ability to replace lost state aid on their own.
So how are states faring? Alaska and Montana have not suffered the same level of economic problems as other states and have enacted fewer budget cuts. Maryland, Massachusetts, and Iowa have chosen to maintain education funding even as they cut programs in other areas. South Carolina, Arizona, and California have experienced the deepest cuts and have reduced per-student funding by more than 20 percent from pre-recession levels.
To read the full report, New School Year Brings Steep Cuts in State Funding for Schools, by Phil Oliff and Michael Leachman, go to www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3569.

World Spin

Reach for the Sky

India has introduced a new tablet computer that students in India can purchase for only $35. The goal is to deliver modern technology to the countryside to help lift villagers out of poverty. The device has a color screen and provides word processing, web browsing, and video conferencing.
The device, called Aakash (or "sky" in Hindi), joins the ranks of other inexpensive innovations that India offers, such as the $2,040 compact Nano car, a $15 water purifier, and $2,000 open-heart surgery.

Numbers of Note

85 The percentage of U.S. school districts experiencing funding cuts in the 2010–11 school year that cut some kind of school staff to compensate for shortfalls.
76 The percentage of U.S. school districts experiencing funding cuts in the 2010–11 school year that cut teaching staff to compensate.
54 The percentage of U.S. school districts who cut teachers in core academic subjects in the 2010–11 school year to compensate for funding.
Source: Kober, N., & Rentner, D. S. (2011). Strained schools face bleak future. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy.

Relevant Reads

Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go? by Marguerite Roza
(Urban Institute Press, 2010) School decision makers are largely unaware of how they spend their money, writes Marguerite Roza. A study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) found that funding priorities at the local school level are rarely based on strategic priorities; instead, they are influenced by a collection of traditions, legal constraints, and stakeholder preferences. Roza's conclusion: Until we bring coherence and accountability to school financial management, more money will not result in more student learning. "If one subscribes to the textbook explanation that an organization's resource allocation system is a manifestation of its strategic priorities, then here is what CRPE research has shown is most important to urban districts throughout the nation: Middle- and upper-class students, not poor students. Electives and athletics, not core subjects. Gifted and high-achieving students, not struggling students. With implicit priorities like these playing out at the school level, it is no surprise that the system produces such a weak link between spending and goals for student outcomes." (p. 13)

Only Online

Where to Go When Your Budget Says No

  • <LINK URL="http://www.donorschoose.org">www.donorschoose.org</LINK>Public school teachers post classroom project requests on the site. Potential donors can browse requests and give any amount to the one that inspires them. Once a project reaches its funding goal, Donors Choose delivers the materials to the school.
  • <LINK URL="http://www.iloveschools.com">www.iloveschools.com</LINK>This nonprofit online donation center connects new, used, and in-kind resources with schools. Donors select the classrooms that will receive their donation and say how much the center can use to cover its administrative costs.
  • <LINK URL="http://www.digitalwish.com">www.digitalwish.com</LINK>This organization develops new online tools and promotions that help teachers get new technology for their classrooms. Since August 2009, Digital Wish has granted more than 24,000 classroom technology wishes and delivered more than $10 million in technology products to U.S. classrooms.
  • <LINK URL="http://www.adoptaclassroom.org">www.adoptaclassroom.org</LINK>A donor selects a classroom and makes a contribution for the teacher to purchase needed resources. Donors may search for classrooms by geographical area, school name, teacher name, or other search criteria. If a donor has no preference, Adopt-A-Classroom partners the donor with an underserved classroom in the community.

Page Turner

"In the absence of greater accounting granularity, school districts use meat cleavers instead of budgetary scalpels when they have to reduce costs."
James W. Guthrie, p. 17

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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