By Robert L. Borosage, cross-posted from Campaign For America's Future
Starving America’s Public Schools: How Budget Cuts and Policy Mandates are Hurting our Nation’s Students
– released today by the Campaign for America’s Future and the National
Education Association looks at five states to detail what this means to
kids in our public elementary and secondary schools.
Every study shows the importance of early childhood education.
Analysts at the Federal Reserve discovered that investments in childhood
development have, in the words of Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, such “high
public as well as private returns” that the Fed has championed such
investments, noting they save states money by reducing costs of
dropouts, special education, and crime prevention. Yet across the
country, states are slashing funding for pre-kindergarten and even
rolling back all day kindergarten. Now only about one-fourth of
4-year-olds are served by pre-K programs. Ten states have eliminated
funding for pre-K altogether, including Arizona. Ohio eliminated funding
for all-day kindergarten.
Every parent and teacher knows the importance of smaller classes,
particularly in the early years, when individual attention is vital.
Yet across the country, schools are facing layoffs of nearly 250,000
workers next year, many of them teachers. In Chester Upland, Pa., 40
percent of the teachers were eliminated, with class sizes rising from 21
to 30 in elementary schools and to 35 in high schools, prompting
students to walk out.
Intelligence comes in many forms. Successful schools offer a
well-rounded curriculum – not just the basics, but art and music, social
studies, extracurricular activities and physical education. But now
schools across the country are forced to terminate or charge extra for
anything beyond the core curriculum. In York, Pa., art, music and
physical education was eliminated in elementary schools. In Medina,
Ohio, students returned to find courses in French, German, art, music
and advanced placement science and math were eliminated.
And children, needless to say, are extremely diverse. They learn in
different ways, at different rates, and face different challenges.
Public schools educate the poor and the affluent, those with
developmental challenges and those who are gifted. Yet across the
country, schools are slashing funds for special learning instruction,
for advanced placement courses. Increasingly parents face extra fees
for programs. In Medina, Ohio, for example, it costs $660 to play a
high school sport, $200 to join the school choir or $50 to act in a
And even as budgets are slashed for public schools, more and more state
education money is getting siphoned off to private contractors to pay
for elaborate tests, and to vouchers and corporate tax credits to
subsidize private and charter schools. We’re cutting billions out of
educating kids while increasing spending on testing how they are
School budgets have been cut in some 34 states and the District of
Columbia. In Arizona, the cuts average about $530 per pupil. In
Florida, $1 billion was cut in next year’s budget, or about $542 per
student. Not surprisingly, these cuts fall hardest on the poorest
districts that can’t afford to make up for them the way affluent
districts can. The kids who have the greatest need for public education
are suffering the deepest cuts.
Americans sensibly value education. Every political candidate promises
our children will have the best education in the world. Yet Washington
seems largely oblivious to the carnage taking place in our schools.
Part of the president’s American Jobs Act was special funding to avoid
more teacher layoffs. A filibuster by Republican senators kept that
from even coming up for debate, much less a vote.
Meanwhile a furious argument continues about to what standard teachers
and schools should be held accountable. The administration, still
touting its Race to the Top program, wants the reauthorization of No
Child Left Behind to set the standard that all children should be
“college ready” by the year 2020. Sen.Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced a
more sensible standard of requiring “continuous improvement” from all
But schools are eliminating kindergarten, laying off teachers, cramming
35 kids in a class, cutting advanced placement classes, and levying
steep fees for kids to be in the band or play on an athletic team.
Continuous improvement? Race to the Top? The grim reality facing our
kids mocks the rhetoric.
Jeff Bryant, author of the Starving America’s Public Schools report,
notes that there have been only two previous times since 1929 when this
nation cut spending significantly on its children’s education, once in
the midst of the Great Depression and once in the midst of World War
II. With schools facing budget cutbacks while the largest generation of
kids since the boomers flood the classrooms, this is likely to be the
third. The bankers who caused the mess got bailed out. The military
budget exceeds Cold War levels. The richest 1 percent of Americans, who
make as much as the bottom 60 percent of Americans, pay the lowest tax
rates since the Great Depression. But our kids and their schools are
paying the price for an economic mess they didn’t create. No wonder
Occupy Wall Street has spread across the country.