This week a critically important new report was jointly released by the National Education Association and Campaign for America's Future. It was written by our own Jeff Bryant, who isalso a Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future, and who led a panel (on which I participated) at that organization's recent Take Back the American Dream Conference. Jeff's most recent post here, If We Want 'Great Teachers,' Don't We Need To Give Them Jobs?, refers to the report he authored. In that piece he wrote pf the experience of writing the report
What I discovered was that huge cuts enacted by state legislatures across the country are having catastrophic effects on our nation's teaching force and in turn the education opportunities available to our children and youth.The report is titled Starving America’s Public Schools: How Budget Cuts and Policy Mandates Are Hurting Our Nation’s Students. That link will take you to a page at CAF which will introduce you to the report, provide a link to a PDF of the document, and also provide several videos Jeff took during the Save Our Schools March last summer at which thousands came to DC to rally on behalf of public schools.
In community after community, I came across clear signs that our schools are in dire straits due to severe decreases in teacher jobs. In so many places, all art and music teachers are being fired. Teachers who help children with developmental problems or emotional issues are being let go. Students who want to take courses they need to get into their dream college are told those subjects are no longer going to be taught because the teachers have been reassigned or let go. And experienced faculty who staff school libraries, technology classes, and gifted and talented programs are being told their services are no longer needed.
Allow me to skip ahead to the conclusion, so that you will have an idea of the thrust of the report:
This bottom-up examination of the state of the American public school system indicates a new and growing crisis in pre-K–12 public education. The crisis is characterized by two widespread trends:Please keep reading.
1. Funding cuts recently enacted by state legislatures and signed into law by governors are having a severe negative effect on direct services to children, youth, and families.
2. New policy mandates at both the federal and state levels are forcing school districts to divert tax dollars meant for public education to various privately held concerns, including charter schools, private and religious schools, and contractors and service providers that are hired to meet new demands for testing and accountability systems.
The result of this one-two punch to the nation’s public schools is that children everywhere are losing essential learning opportunities at the same time that tax dollars meant for education are being diverted to private concerns for services that are of questionable value to the public.
I am not going to explore the entire report. It is not that long - the PDF, including covers and footnotes, is only 48 pages. You can get a good sense of it from the piece at Our Future.org from which you gain access to the PDF. In it Bryant notes that there is indeed "a growing crisis in America’s public schools" but that it is very different than the prevailing one, which is
evidence from macro-sources of data: scores from standardized testing, reports on the nation’s dropout rates, samplings from various student populations, and comparative assessments in various subject areasand I note that those comparative assessment have themselves thoroughly deconstructed by the likes of the late Gerald Bracey and Iris T. Rotberg (disclosure, I was her student at the doctoral level an co-authored a monograph with her, and Bracey was a frienseveral of whose books I reviewed). Bryant writes that crisis about which he writes "is far more real and much more dangerous to our nation’s children than the prevailing narrative suggests."
Bryant examines media sources upon which people rely to draw their impressions about their schools. Bryant focuses on the five states of Arizona, Florida, North Carolina (where he lives), Pennsylvania and Ohio "that perhaps epitomize the current crisis in K-12 education systems." His concentration is on K-12, although he acknowledges similar patterns in higher education.
He has found two factors driving this crisis.
The first factor: New austerity budgets passed by state legislatures are starting to have a huge influence on direct services to children, youth, and families.This is seen in cutting pre-K, music and art, physical education and other subjects; massive increases in class size; cuts in specialized programs and/or charging of fees for them.
The second factor: As public schools are grappling with these severe budget cuts to programs, they also are facing enormous pressure to transfer tax dollars to targets outside traditional public education. New policy mandates at the federal and state levels are forcing public school systems to redirect tax dollars meant for public schools to various privately held concerns such as charter schools, private and religious schools, and contractors and companies tasked with setting up new systems for testing and accountability.I am not going to go through all of what Jeff Bryant found. Before I give a few examples, allow me to offer a snip from this brief Bloomberg news piece which illustrates at least in part the impact beyond public schools:
The number of workers employed by local governments in the U.S. fell to the lowest since November 2005 as teachers and other public employees lost their jobs.As financial pressures continue on localities, who get most of their own funding from taxes on real property that continues to decline in value, and whose funding from the states is often dependent upon sales and/or income taxes whose revenues were already depressed by the recession and unemployment even before massive cuts were made to taxes for the wealthy and businesses, this trend of eliminating education jobs is going to continue, especially if Republicans on the Hill continue to block programs that could help reverse this trend.
Local government payrolls, adjusted for seasonal swings, dropped 35,000 in September to 14 million, the Labor Department reported today. The loss was driven by education payrolls, which slipped 24,400 to a more than six-year low of 7.8 million.
The report examines each of the five states - AZ, FL, NC, OH & PA - in a fair amount of detail. First Bryant gives a summary of the five:
ArizonaI might note each of those statements is footnoted (I removed the numbers from the block quote) so that the reader can see the source.
Arizona is a “cut king,” second only to California in slashing the most from education spending, per pupil, from FY 2008 to FY 2012.36 State lawmakers cut $183 million from K–12 education in 2011.
Arizona ranks sixth among states in the amount of public school funds being funneled to private schools. The state redirects $61 million per year through indi- vidual, corporate, and other kinds of tax credit programs.
Florida has cut more than $1 billion from education in its new budget for 2011–12, an almost 8 percent drop that translates to a loss of $542 per student.39
Florida ranks first among states in the amount of public school tax dollars being sent to private schools. The state redirects $229 million per year through voucher and corporate tax credit programs.
Overriding the governor’s veto, the North Carolina General Assembly approved a 2011 budget that cut $800 million in funding for education.41 The state ranked 47th in spending per pupil in the country in 2010 and likely will slip to 49th for 2011.
North Carolina currently does not have a voucher or tax credit program open to all its citizens. But the legislature this year passed a bill that for the first time allows the state to send public tax dollars to private schools for families of special needs students. And legislators passed a law to allow an unlimited number of charter schools to operate in the state with much less oversight.
Ohio is cutting state K–12 education funding by $800 million over the next two fiscal years, 2011–2012 and 2012–2013. The cut amounts to an average of 7.5 percent, which equates to $400 per student and nearly 14,000 teachers’ salaries.44
Ohio comes in fourth among states in the amount of public school tax dollars being redirected to private schools. The state redirects $107 million per year through voucher programs.
Pennsylvania’s state political leadership passed and approved a new budget this year that cut $851 million from public schools that will likely lead to, according to the state’s teachers’ union, increasing class sizes, eliminating programs, laying off teachers, as well as forcing school districts to raise taxes.
Pennsylvania ranks seventh among states in the amount of public school funds being sent to private schools. The state redirects $52 million per year through various types of tax credit programs.
In a box along side we read the following:
All five states have implemented severe austerity measures that slash public education by billions of dollars. Yet all five states have been lauded as education reform role models for other states to follow.It is worth noting that four of the five are completely under Republican control, the exception being North Carolina, which still has a Democratic governor.
The report proceeds state by state, providing a narrative, giving statistics on the state, and illustrating with specific examples. Thus for Arizona, the narrative is titled Yes, It Can Get Worse and opens with this paragraph:
By the end of the 2011– school year, Arizona’s public schools had enrolled about 1.1 million students in a little over 2,000 schools. Compared with other states, Arizona has one of the worst records with regard to financial support of public schools.The narrative for each state is supported by charts and specifics. For cuts affecting class size in Arizona, Bryant offers the following data:
PhoenixA similar pattern is offered across multiple topics for each of the five states. For each of the points presented, Bryant provides sourcing.
(Paradise Valley Higley, Deer Valley, Buckeye, Agua Fria, Tolleson, Isaac, Roosevelt)
– Cut more than 30 teaching positions (Higley)
– Reduced teaching force by 56 (Deer Valley )
– Closed 2 elementary schools (Isaac)
– Closed an elementary school (Roosevelt)i Prescott
– Closed an elementary school (Cottonwood-Oak)
– Cut 24 teaching and staff positions including a 3rd-
grade teacher, a 4th-grade teacher, and a 6th-grade teacher (Humboldt)
(Tempe, Gilbert, Mesa, Kyrene)
– Closed a middle school (Tempe)
– Eliminated 21 secondary teachers and increased class
size at the junior high level from 28 to 30 (Mesa)
– Increased class size by two students in grades K–3 and one student in grades 4 – 8 (Kyrene)
(Tucson, Vail, Flowing Wells)
– Fined $1.9 million for insufficient instruction time for 7th and 8th graders
– Class sizes reaching 40 (Tucson)
– Increased high school class sizes from 24-29 to 32-35
– Increased class sizes (Flowing Wells)
Bryant concludes his report by arguing
It’s time for policy leaders at all levels to intercede in this crisis. It is imperative that officials at the national, state, and local levelsHe then offers specific recommendations which are as follows:
Restore funding of public schools to levels thatThis is a critically important report. It has gotten wide distribution in educational circles already. I am on lists from a variety of sources, and each featured the report at least once last week. It has not, however, gotten similar coverage in the general press, and not surprisingly, is not highly visible in the five states it examines.
␣ Guarantees children have access to high quality pre-K and kindergarten programs;
␣ Ensure class sizes in all subjects reflectcommunity wishes;
␣ Provide a well-rounded, 21st century education that includes the arts, foreign languages, physical education, social studies, and science;
␣ Supports pecial programs that personalize school experiences and meet students’ differing needs, which may include help with developmental issues, language ability, and learning problems. Provide opportunities for nonacademic and extracurricular activities. Provide support for a more academically challenging curricula in science, foreign language, technology, and Advanced Placement subjects.
Offer immediate regulatory relief to schools being forced to send significant financial resources meant for public education to privately held entities, including
␣ Charter schools not yet approved by current authorizers;
␣ Voucher or tax credit programs that redirect education funds to private and religious schools;
␣ Policy mandates that require hiring of contractors and outside service providers operated by private individuals and corporations.
America is at a crossroads on many important issues. We see that in the gridlock on the Hill with the inability to move forward with a program that can alleviate the pressure to cut even more teaching jobs. We of course see it in the Spreading of the Occupy Wall Street movement not only across the country but yesterday around the world. There are many issues that need attention, and it is hard to keep them all in mind.
Yesterday my wife shared with her friends a thought, one which I offered here in a brief diary. Allow me to repeat her observation:
Chutzpah 2012Those of us involved in public schools have been seeing this pattern for some time. Starve the schools of money, increase class size. Move students with stronger parental support or higher socioeconomic status out of regular public schools either to charters which somehow can exclude the harder to educate (SPED, ELL) or by vouchers to non-public schools not subject to the testing regimen, raise the cut scores in the name of greater 'rigor' and "higher standards" then use the resulting poor performance as an excuse for further attacks on and cuts to public education.
Old definition of chutzpah:
A guy kills his parents, then throws himself on the mercy of the court
on account of he's an orphan.
New definition of chutzpah (2012 edition):
Republicans trash the economy, do everything possible to thwart
Democratic measures to improve the economy, then tell us we should
elect them because of the lousy economy.
American public education is now in the midst of an artificially created and maintained crisis. Were we truly committed to the well-being, economic and personal, of the American people, rather than cutting funds for public education in the midst of a crisis, we would put more in. By cutting we are eating our seed corn.
In the past business wanted a steady stream of trained and compliant workers. Now too many large businesses really don't care. They will use the crisis of schools to argue (a) they should not be taxed to pay for "failing" schools; (b) the schools do not provide them the workers they need, therefore they should export jobs overseas or bring in lower paid workers under H1B visas.
Meanwhile, wealthier people who do not live in elite suburbs where the public schools are often of the quality of private schools (as were many of the schools in Westchester County NY where I grew up in the 50s and 60s) will argue that they should not be forced to pay for the education of other people's kids.
The education for those "other people's kids" will continue to be narrowed by elites, some of whom are Democrats, who would never subject their own children to what they are willing to impose on poor children - of color, in rural areas, on reservations.
This report should serve as a wakeup, but that can only happen if it is more widely read.
Our schools are in crisis, serious crisis. A large part of it has been policy even before the recent financial difficulties around the nation. That is now exacerbated by the severe financial pressure under which schools find themselves.
if corporate profits and bonuses for executives and tax cuts for business and the wealthy are more important than appropriate funding for public education for the vast majority of our children, then we are probably in the death throes of being a democratic republic.
Please, do what you can to make this report visible.
If you are in one of the five states on which it focuses, you should already know the impact. Use the report to rally people, to organize to retake control of your state government.
If you are in other states, recognize that these five are not unique. It may already be happening in yours, even if you have complete Democratic control. What happens to schools is symptomatic of what happens to all public services. And what has happened in these five states is a clear illustration of why elections at every level should matter.
It is more than just elections. It must be ongoing pressure. We need to educate ourselves and our neighbors so that when we do organize we understand what is at stake.
Thank your for reading this post.
And thank you in advance for anything you can do to stop the starvation of American public schools.