Articles tagged with budget cuts

With federal cuts to education looming, school board leaders head to Capitol Hill

More than 700 school board and state school boards association leaders are meeting with members of Congress on Tuesday. They will advocate that Congress protect education programs from across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration.

School board leaders from all parts of the country are currently in Washington D.C. to take part in the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) 40th annual Federal Relations Network Conference, being held Jan. 27-29, 2013.

With the sequestration looming, more than 700 school boards have passed resolutions advocating Congress to stop the across-the-board cuts that would dismantle key education programs in their school districts. These federal cuts to K-12 public education would total more than $3 billion this fiscal year. Furthermore, these cuts would continue over a 10-year period and have a devastating effect on our schools, eroding the base of funding for programs that directly impact student learning year after year.

“The federal cuts to public education would impede on the ability of school districts and states to sustain resources for programs that close achievement gaps, raise graduation rates, and retain highly effective teachers,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s Executive Director. “K-12 education programs have already been previously reduced on the federal level and the ability to absorb additional budget cuts and provide an enhanced curriculum for all students is extremely limited for many school districts.”

In this school year, 26 states are providing less funding per student to local school districts than they provided a year ago. And in many states, this reduction comes on top of severe cuts made in previous years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Across-the-board cuts to education programs should not be legislated, especially for economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities,” said NSBA’s President C. Ed Massey, a member of the Boone County (Ky.) Board of Education. “Local school boards need to continue raising student achievement should not be consumed or overshadowed by record budget cuts. Key investments will help sustain and continue the progress school districts are making in school improvement, teacher and principal effectiveness, increased graduation rates, and college and career readiness.”

To learn what school board members can do to prevent sequestration go to NSBA’s Stop Sequestration resource at

Alexis Rice|January 28th, 2013|Categories: Special Education, Educational Finance, Student Achievement, Budgeting, Federal Advocacy, FRN Conference 2013|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

At the more popular charter schools operating within the Los Angeles Unified School District, there are lotteries to see who gets to attend and waiting lists that are very long – 500 children long, in the case Larchmont Charter elementary school. But if you’ve got the money and the time, according to a revealing story in LA Weekly, you can go to the front of the line as “founding parents” — even though the school opened in 2004.

“Add something called a ‘founding parent’ to the long list of ways that charter schools are accused of manipulating which children get to enroll and who doesn’t,” writes Alexander Russo, who cites the story in his This Week in Education blog. But “before you go crazy…” he adds later, “remember that district schools also have all sorts of ways of letting students in through the back door …”

True …but, the scale of the Larchmont “program” and the amount of money involved – and how it bridges the increasingly blurry line between public and private schools – is truly amazing. And it backs up what charter skeptics have long said about charters tailoring their admission policies in various ways (for example, not accepting near as  many special needs children) but claiming a universal benefit for an area’s students.

Need something lighter? When I do, I turn to the Principal’s Page and Superintendent Michael Smith’s often amusing view of his job and life. This short piece is on his junior high school daughter’s unusual level of self-esteem, which is uncannily high for someone who has every right to be the brooding teenager.

My favorite line: “Her worst day ever was great.”

It reminds me of those brilliantly funny Dos Equis beer ads – yes, brilliant beer ads – featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” played by the late Jonathan Goldsmith. (I love these two lines, especially: “When he’s in Rome, they do as he does.” And: “His Mother has a tattoo that reads, ‘Son.’” – both uttered with mock gravity by a reader who, in real life, does the ultra-authoritative voiceover for PBS’s Frontline.)

Enough fun. There are serious issues to consider. And Jay Mathews has taken on a weighty one in his Class Struggle blog, namely how well schools are addressing the needs of gifted students. Actually, Mathews is commenting on a much longer article by Rick Hess, of the American Enterprise Institute, who says “not very well at all.” But, like Mathews, I don’t think re-restricting access to Advanced Placement courses, because they’re presumably not as rigorous as in the past, is the way to go.

The final item is not a blog, but a piece Friday on NPR’s All Things Considered about how the recession caused a drop in the U.S. birthrate. (Scroll down to “US  Birthrate Dropped During Recession,” which refers to this Pew Research Center report.)

So what’s so bad about 300,000 or so less babies a year? Well, think of that in terms of the reduced number of parental Babies R Us visits, and you get an idea of the economic impact.

“Then, as we look further down the road, school enrollments will be begin to fall,” said Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau who was interviewed on the radio show. “We would need fewer teachers….   A school board that looks at 15 percent fewer students has some tough decisions to make down the road.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 14th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized, Charter Schools, Week in Blogs, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Who wants yesterday’s paper?” Mick Jagger asked decades ago in a song that had more to do with a failed relationship than the newspaper industry. But as a former newspaper reporter, I’ve tended to take that line quite literally and protested, if only to myself: “I do. I want yesterday’s paper.” Because you can learn a lot from yesterday’s paper (it’s not all breaking news, after all) and, for that matter, yesterday’s books and magazines, yesterday’s poetry and music, yesterday’s take on the world.

And what about yesterday’s classroom technology? Or, more broadly, yesterday’s teaching methods and the curricula that went with them? Are they still relevant today? Not only are they relevant, argues Core Knowledge founder E. D. Hirsch Jr. — they’re far superior to the process- and test-based approaches of today, an approach he says is responsible for across-the-board declines in verbal SATs.

“Our national verbal decline transcends this ‘achievement gap’ between demographic groups,” Hirsch writes. “The language competence of our high school graduates fell precipitously in the seventies, and has never recovered. What changed — and what remains largely un-discussed in education reform — is that in the decades prior to the Great Decline, a content-rich elementary school experience evolved into a content-light, skills-based, test-based approach that dominates in our schools today.”

It’s an intriguing argument; and, for what it’s worth, I buy some, but not all, of it. Hirsch thinks we’ve all gone skill-based crazy, but at my daughters’ elementary school in Virginia, for example, the approach to skills and content is quite obviously  “both-and,” not “either-or.”  Is it an outlier? I don’t think so.

Another critique of what some consider today’s newfangled education can be found in The Quick and the Ed, where Richard Lee Colvin proclaims that “dumb uses of technology won’t produce smart kids.” He’s commenting on a recent New York Times article on how state-of-the-art technology has not led to higher test scores in many classes.  Once again, his argument is interesting, if taken with a dose of skepticism.  I doubt, for example, that Colvin could find a lot of school technology experts who think that dumb uses of technology are just the thing to make their students smarter.  It’s a bit more complicated than that.

We’ve quoted from the conservative side (Hirsch) so I thought it only fair to go the other direction, and what better place than to education commentator Susan Ohanian? And it turns out, her guest writer, Yvonne Siu-Runyan, president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), is pining for the old days too. More specifically, a time when school libraries and public libraries weren’t staggering under huge budget cuts. Siu-Runyan quotes an American Library Association study showing that school expenditures for information resources decreased overall by 9.4 percent from 2009 to 2010, and in high-poverty areas by an alarming 25 percent.

It doesn’t bode well for creating the kind of content-rich environments that Hirsch and so many others say are critical to our future.


Lawrence Hardy|September 23rd, 2011|Categories: Week in Blogs, Educational Technology|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

It’s back-to-basics time in Carlisle, Pa, reports the Think Progress blog. And what could be more basic that bringing in a flock of sheep to cut the grass at two campuses of the Carlisle School District? Superintendent John Friend estimates that the sheep – who belong to a middle school principal – will save the district about $15,000 this year in mowing costs.

“They’ve done a good job so far,” Friend said.

And now for “the rest of the story,” as radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say: The district needs to save money — indeed, all Keystone State districts need to save money — in large part because of Gov. Tom Corbett’s devastating $900 million in cuts to education.  Maybe they could sell some wool too?

On to PreK education … Credentials, and the expertise they signify, are important. But in order to improve the quality of preschool education is it really necessary to require that preschool teachers have bachelor’s degrees? Kevin Carey, of the Quick and the Ed, thinks not. In a recent paper for the Brookings Institution, Carey and co-author Sara Mead say that the academic advantages of preschool teachers having a bachelor’s degree are negligible and that the costs are too high – especially for low income teachers who are likely to have to go into debt to pay for it. Mead and Carey want states to create new institutions — “charter collages of early childhood education — that would specialize in helping early childhood workers obtain new credentials that signal skills, knowledge and talent specific to the field.”

Speaking of PreK, if you haven’t seen it already, read the July report, “PreK as a Turnaround Strategy,” from PreK Now.

Lastly, read Alex Kotlowitz’s eminently reasonable response to a Steven Brill tirade on the “reform deniers” who dare to think that schools cannot – all by themselves – cure poverty.






Lawrence Hardy|August 27th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

Riffs cause rift between RI union and district officials

1194985021415637292axe_peterm__svg_medI just love a good fuss. There’s something truly entertaining about adults frothing at the mouth and blowing an issue all out of proportion.

That seems to be the case in Providence, R.I., where the teachers union is all up in arms over the school system’s decision to send out dismissal notices to all 1,926 teachers in the city.

School officials say the notices make sense. As Superintendent Tom Brady told the Providence Journal, state law requires the district to notify teachers by March 1 if there’s the possibility that their employment status could change.

And, confronted with a potential $40 million budget deficit next year, “a dismissal letter to all teachers was necessary to give the mayor, the school board, and the district maximum flexibility to consider every cost savings option, including reductions in staff.”

That makes sense to me. It would be a tad difficult to balance the budget if you tell only 100 teachers that they might lose their jobs—and then you need to lay off 150.

It also makes sense because, if there’s any flexibility in state law and the teachers’ contract, the sweeping dismissal notice allows school officials to avoid the first-hired, first-fired phenomenon that so often surrounds teacher layoffs.

Why lose a promising young talent or hard-to-find science teacher when there are less effective teachers who can go on the chopping block?

I like the idea that teacher layoffs might actually be determined by the educational needs of students.

Naomi Dillon|March 3rd, 2011|Categories: Governance, Teachers, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , |

Detroit’s cost-cutting proposal, overly dramatic, logistically infeasible, intentionally thought-provoking

1194985021415637292axe_peterm__svg_medI’m not sure how to react to a Detroit Public School proposal to close nearly half of the city’s schools over the next two years—and boost class sizes to as high as 62.

On the face of it, the proposal is ludicrous. Not only will it not pass political muster, the logistical problems in finding classrooms big enough for 60+ students makes talk about the instructional issues rather pointless.

So it’s obvious this “the sky is falling” plan—proposed by Robert Bobb, the state-appointed emergency financial manager for DPS—is simply making a dramatic point about the school system’s dire financial situation.

I suppose that’s fair enough. Confronted with shrinking enrollment, a decline in property taxes and state aid, and a huge budget deficit, Bobb has no choice but to shutter dozens of schools, cut staff, and boost class sizes.

So he might as well shock folks with apocalyptic visions of the future—so everyone is so numb with shock that they accept more modest, yet still painful measures.

Of course, before that happens, Bobb will need to weather the inevitable firestorm of criticism. But I’m betting that’s part of his plan—let people vent before talking about less-traumatic change.

Naomi Dillon|January 13th, 2011|Categories: Governance, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

Central office necessary, not a nuisance to providing public education

1453-1249689262vehtI’m really tired of suggestions that school boards can ease their school budget deficits by cutting more administrators from the payroll.

One of the latest to offer this all-too-common recommendation was Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who recently was talking about his state’s more than $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

“We don’t want to cut public education, so we’re going to have to go to superintendents of schools and say: ‘Listen, you’ve got to find us some administrators, some bureaucrats, some public relations people that we can cut, because we’re not going to furlough teachers,’ ” the Baltimore Sun reports Miller saying.

Now, I applaud any recognition of the importance of teachers—and protecting the instruction that goes on in the classroom. And I’m sure Sen. Miller means well.

But, really, this sounds like one of those off-the-cuff remarks that policymakers spout every once in a while.

And it’s not helpful. It just gets people thinking that there’s fat to cut in today’s school budgets. That many school district central offices are bloated, staffed by people who don’t do essential work.

It ain’t so.

School board members and superintendents know the reality. A school system is a complex, multi-million-dollar operation, and there is a lot of work to be done outside the classroom if teachers are to teach—and students are to learn.

Naomi Dillon|February 18th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Policy Formation, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , |

Athletic programs buckling under tough economy

I rarely receive correspondance from my college alma matter and since they’d just concluded an expansive fundraising campaign, I was suprised to see yet another message from them this morning. Unfortunately, they weren’t asking for money. Regretfully, the email read, they had been forced to eliminate its football program.

I admit I’ve never been a big football fan, but I wasn’t immune to the excitment that enveloped our campus when our team reached the championship game in the 1996 NAIA Division II playoffs. I am shocked and dismayed, as I’m sure the college officials who had to make this decision, about the demise of a university tradition. It is a telling sign of the financial times.

Of course, as educators in the K-12 sector, you have been reading for months about this unfortunate trend in school athletic programs; and maybe even bracing yourself against having to make just such a cut. Recently, the East Side Union School District in San Jose, Calif. announced to an angry public it was considering cutting all of it’s athletic programs. Meanwhile, Volusia County school officials in Florida, has eliminated junior varsity sports beginning this spring.

One of the most drastic moves came from the Mount Vernon School District in New York, which I profiled in the current issue of ASBJ. There, district officials nixed the entire athletic program after taxpayers voted the district’s budget down twice. But the public rallied and raised enough money to resurrect the fall and winter sports programs, and is working on bringing back spring sports. It’s future, however, (there and at other school districts across the country) is as uncertain as the economy. Sports are an easy target during tough times, but many of the people I interviewed gave convincing arguments on why, athletic programs, especially during a bad economy, is the thing you really should try to preserve.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 9th, 2009|Categories: Budgeting, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

Sports often the first to go

Early on in his life, Jim Richardson set his sights on doing two things: becoming a cop, like his father, and becoming an Olympic gold medal champion.

“Well, I fell a little short on the Olympics,” says Richardson, who is the police chief in Grand Meadow, Minn.  Though he did never earn a spot on the Olympics team, the long-time wrestler did earn a number of international and national sports awards. But more importantly, he’s earned the trust and respect of the many high school students he’s coached over the last 15 years.

“I like to get the kids who are skinny on life and feed him my recipe and let him just play,” Richardson says. “Tell him, ‘You know, some problems just aren’t that big.'”

Unfortunately, the current state of the economy is and Grand Meadow, like many other school districts across the country is running up against hard financial times, as state and local revenue dwindle and operational costs continue to rise. Just last year, the small, rural district came out of statutory debt, though that may be shortlived, since the state has already indicated that it will keep state aid flat next year, after giving schools a paltry two percent increase this year.

“That two percent, all it did was help us pay for the diesel fuel for three buses,” says Grand Meadow Superintendent Joe Brown. “I wish someone would tell me how they came up with the inflation rate for schools because  our diesel fuel doubled, our food costs went up double-digit, and our health care costs went up 12 percent.”


Naomi Dillon|December 19th, 2008|Categories: Governance, Policy Formation, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |
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