No Public School on Fridays: How States are Managing the Educational Budget Crisis

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No Public School on Fridays: How States are Managing the Educational Budget Crisis
The continuing budget crisis in all states is forcing public schools to make difficult choices, including canceling classes on Fridays.
Since the nation entered an economic recession in 2008, public school systems across the country have been grappling with some of the most severe state budget crises in recent memory. As governors introduce their budget proposals for the 2010-2011 school year, school districts are learning that the belt-tightening and difficult choices are likely to continue next year.  
In Hawaii, the Department of Education has managed its budget crisis by instituting mandatory furlough days for public school teachers. The furlough days have resulted in Hawaii public schools being closed on seven Fridays since October 2009.
The closing of public schools on Fridays has prompted strong reactions from public school parents in Hawaii. Parents have formed two grassroots organizations: Save Our Schools Hawaii and Hawaii Education Matters. The groups have been pressing Hawaiian legislators to restore the 27 furlough days that are planned for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year.
Hawaii’s governor, Linda Lingle, has been working to try to find a way to get students back in school on the planned furlough days. The Honolulu Advertiser reports that the governor, the state Department of Education, and the Hawaii State Teachers’ Association are in the process of negotiating terms which might allow students to return to the classroom on some of the upcoming furlough days.
However, any solution that the negotiators propose will inevitably involve compromises. The teachers’ union is concerned that the governor’s proposal to restore furlough days will result in a severe budget shortfall for the Department of Education, which would force public schools to lay off 2,500 full-time school employees, increase class sizes, and cut some school programs.
The teachers’ union is also unhappy about the prospect of the governor’s proposal to restore some of the furlough days by requiring teachers to give up the ten instructional planning days they are currently allotted. Because teachers must have time to plan their lessons, eliminating these planning days is equivalent to forcing them to plan on their own unpaid time.
Meanwhile, in Indiana, the state is asking public schools to cut $297 million from their budgets in 2010. The Kokomo Perspective reports that the state will spend nearly 13 percent less on education over the next two years than it has in previous years.
The Indiana State Board of Education is sending a checklist to Indiana public school districts with suggestions for methods of cutting expenses from school budgets, according to an Associated Press report. Options include requiring students to pay fees to cover the costs of sports and other extracurricular activities, freezing employee salaries, and outsourcing janitorial or cafeteria services.
California, whose massive public school system has experienced the brutal impact of budget shortfalls in the past two years, is still struggling with its education budget. Speaking to Education Week, Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Association, explained that governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed 2011 budget manipulates the variables in a formula that the state has implemented since 1998. This formula guarantees a certain minimum amount to public school districts. The minimum amount is tied to the state’s general fund, and under the governor’s proposed changes, the general fund would be substantially less. The result, according to Plotkin, is that the minimum amount public schools will be guaranteed in the 2010-2011 school year will be $2 billion less than it has been in the 2009-2010 school year.
Subsequently, California’s public school districts will continue to have to make difficult budgetary decisions. Education Week reports that last year, the San Diego Unified School District managed to avoid laying off teachers only by offering early retirement to 500 teachers. The district also increased class sizes in the early grades from 20 to 24. With an even tighter budget for the 2010-2011 school year, class sizes in this and other California districts may need to be further increased, and teacher layoffs may be unavoidable.
An Ongoing Crisis that Will Require Ongoing Compromises
In Education Week’s coverage of California’s budget woes, Plotkin laments that “We are running out of words to describe how catastrophic this is.”
Indeed, the danger seems to be that budget cuts are becoming a new way of life for public schools. While legislators, teachers’ unions, and state Departments of Education work to make the best of increasingly limited resources, public school students in these states are experiencing their states’ budget crises in very concrete ways in the form of larger classes and fewer school programs. The decisions public schools must make during this educational budget crisis is indeed more troubling than words can describe.

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