The Attack on American Education

By Dec 22, 2010, 5:52 PM Author's Blog  

Over the long term, the only way we’re going to raise wages, grow the economy, and improve American competitiveness is by investing in our people — especially their educations.

You’ve probably seen the reports. American students rank low on international standards of educational performance. Too many of ours schools are failing. Too few young people who are qualified for college or post-secondary education have the opportunity.

I’m not one of those who thinks the only way to fix what’s wrong with American education is to throw more money at it. We also need to do it much better. Teacher performance has to be squarely on the table. We should experiment with vouchers whose worth is inversely related to family income.

But more resources are a pre-requisite for any major reform.

Here’s another reason why the $858 billion tax bill — including a continuation of the Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans and a dramatic drop in their estate taxes — is so dangerous. By further widening the federal budget deficit, it invites even more budget cuts in education, including early-childhood and post-secondary. Pell Grants that allow young people from poor families to attend college are already on the chopping block.

Less visible are cuts the states are already making in their schools budgets. Because these cuts are at the state level they’ve been under the national radar screen, but viewed as a whole they seriously threaten the nation’s future.

Here’s a summary:

  • Arizona has eliminated preschool for 4,328 children, funding for schools to provide additional support to disadvantaged children from preschool to third grade, aid to charter schools, and funding for books, computers, and other classroom supplies. The state also halved funding for kindergarten, leaving school districts and parents to shoulder the cost of keeping their children in school beyond a half-day schedule.
  • California has reduced K-12 aid to local school districts by billions of dollars and is cutting a variety of programs, including adult literacy instruction and help for high-needs students.
  • Colorado has reduced public school spending in FY 2011 by $260 million, nearly a 5 percent decline from the previous year. The cut amounts to more than $400 per student.
  • Georgia has cut state funding for K-12 education for FY 2011 by $403 million or 5.5 percent relative to FY 2010 levels. The cut has led the state’s board of education to exempt local school districts from class size requirements to reduce costs.
  • Hawaii shortened the 2009-10 school year by 17 days and furloughed teachers for those days.
  • Illinois has cut school education funding by $241 million or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. Cuts include a significant reduction in funding for student transportation and the elimination of a grant program intended to improve the reading and study skills of at-risk students from kindergarten through the 6th grade.
  • Maryland has cut professional development for principals and educators, as well as health clinics, gifted and talented summer centers, and math and science initiatives.
  • Michigan has cut its FY 2010 school aid budget by $382 million, resulting in a $165 per-pupil spending reduction.
  • Over the course of FY10, Mississippi cut by 7.2 percent funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a program established to bring per-pupil K-12 spending up to adequate levels in every district.
  • Massachusetts has cut state education aid by $115.6 million, or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. It also made a $4.6 million, or 16 percent cut relative to FY 2010 levels to funding for early intervention services, which help special-needs children develop appropriately and be ready for school.
  • Missouri is cutting its funding for K-12 transportation by 46 percent. The cut in funding likely will lead to longer bus rides and the elimination of routes for some of the 565,000 students who rely on the school bus system.
  • New Jersey has cut funding for afterschool programs aimed to enhance student achievement and keep students safe between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. The cut will likely cause more than 11,000 students to lose access to the programs and 1,100 staff workers to lose their jobs.
  • North Carolina cut by 21 percent funding for a program targeted at small schools in low-income areas and with a high need for social workers and nurses. As a result, 20 schools will be left without a social worker or nurse. The state also temporarily eliminated funding for teacher mentoring.
  • Rhode Island cut state aid for K-12 education and reduced the number of children who can be served by Head Start and similar services.
  • Virginia’s $700 million in cuts for the coming biennium include the state’s share of an array of school district operating and capital expenses and funding for class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade. In addition, a $500 million reduction in state funding for some 13,000 support staff such as janitors, school nurses, and school psychologists from last year’s budget was made permanent.
  • Washington suspended a program to reduce class sizes and provide professional development for teachers; the state also reduced funding for maintaining 4th grade student-to-staff-ratios by $30 million.
  • State education grants to school districts and education programs have also been cut in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah.

Meanwhile, at least 43 states have implemented cuts to public colleges and universities and/or made large increases in college tuition to make up for insufficient state funding.

  • Alabama’s fiscal year 2011 cuts to higher education have led to 2010-11 tuition hikes that range from 8 percent to 23 percent, depending on the institution.
  • Arizona’s Board of Regents approved in-state undergraduate tuition increases of between 9 and 20 percent as well as fee increases at the state’s three public universities. Additionally, the three state universities must implement a 2.75 percent reduction in state-funded salary spending and plan to do so through a variety of actions, such as academic reorganization, layoffs, furloughs, position eliminations, hiring fewer tenure-eligible faculty, and higher teaching workloads.
  • The University of California has increased tuition by 32 percent and reduced freshman enrollment by 2,300 students; the California State University system cut enrollment by 40,000 students.
  • Colorado funding for higher education was reduced by $62 million from FY 2010 and this has led to cutbacks at the state’s institutions. The University of Colorado system will lay off 79 employees in FY 2011 and has increased employee workloads and required higher employee contributions to health and retirement benefits.
  • Florida’s 11 public universities will raise tuition by 15 percent for the 2010-11 academic year. This tuition hike, combined with a similar increase in 2009-10, results in a total two-year increase of 32 percent.
  • Georgia has cut state funding for public higher education for FY2011 by $151 million, or 7 percent. As a result, undergraduate tuition for the fall 2010 semester at Georgia’s four public research universities (Georgia State, Georgia Tech, the Medical College of Georgia, and the University of Georgia) will increase by $500 per semester, or 16 percent. Community college tuition will increase by $50 per semester.
  • The University of Idaho has responded to budget cuts by imposing furlough days on 2,600 of its employees statewide. Furloughs will range from 4 hours to 40 hours depending on pay level.
  • Indiana’s cuts to higher education have caused Indiana State University to plan to lay off 89 staff.
  • Michigan has reduced student financial aid by $135 million (over 61 percent), including decreases of 50 percent in competitive scholarships and 44 percent in tuition grants, as well as elimination of nursing scholarships, work-study, the Part-Time Independent Student Program, Michigan Education Opportunity Grants, and the Michigan Promise Scholarships.
  • In Minnesota, as a result of higher education funding cuts, approximately 9,400 students will lose their state financial aid grants entirely, and the remaining state financial aid recipients will see their grants cut by 19 percent.
  • Missouri’s fiscal year 2011 budget reduces by 60 percent funding for the state’s only need-based financial aid program, which helps 42,000 students access higher education. This cut was partially restored with other scholarship money, but will still result in a cut of at least 24 percent to need-based aid.
  • New Mexico has eliminated over 80 percent of support to the College Affordability Endowment Fund, which provides need-based scholarships to 2,366 students who do not qualify for other state grants or scholarships.
  • New York’s state university system has increased resident undergraduate tuition by 14 percent beginning with the spring 2009 semester.
  • In North Carolina, University of North Carolina students will see their tuition rise by $750 in the 2010-2011 school year and community college students will see their tuition increase by $200 due to fiscal year 2011 reductions in state higher education spending.
  • South Dakota’s fiscal year 2011 budget cuts state support for public universities by $6.5 million and as a result the Board of Regents has increased university tuition by 4.6 percent and cut university programs by $4.4 million.
  • Texas has instituted a 5 percent across-the-board budget cut that reduced higher education funding by $73 million.
  • Virginia’s community colleges implemented a tuition increase during the spring 2010 semester.
  • Washington has reduced state funding for the University of Washington by 26 percent for the current biennium. Washington State University is increasing tuition by almost 30 percent over two years. In its supplemental budget, the state cut 6 percent more from direct aid to the state’s six public universities and 34 community colleges, which will lead to further tuition increases, administrative cuts, furloughs, layoffs, and other cuts. The state also cut support for college work-study by nearly one-third and suspended funding for a number of its financial aid programs.
  • Other states that are cutting higher education operating funding and financial aid include Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Have we gone collectively out of our minds? Our young people — their capacities to think, understand, investigate, and innovate — are America’s future. In the name of fiscal prudence we’re endangering that future.

In January, Republicans take over the House and its appropriations committees. What would it take for them to reinstitute counter-cyclical revenue sharing that would help the states restore some or all funding for education? Can you imagine the White House and Senate Dems putting this at the top of their 2011 agenda? Is it possible we could have a bi-partisan effort?

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8 Comments

  1. Thom Ryder says:

    Magic 8-Ball: “Not Likely”

    I also want to take a moment to thank you, Mr. Reich, for your years of service. My teach wife and my teacher self are about to retire in the thought that people really just don’t care.

  2. MisterRog says:

    From the article… “We should experiment with vouchers whose worth is inversely related to family income.”

    Yeah, just what I need from people with zero background in education…. more experiments on my kids.

  3. Charles Hoff says:

    This isn’t going to change until we stop allowing students, and parents, to regard learning as “optional.” The consequences for not being an active participate in the learning process are currently far to deferred to be meaningful.

    Participation in activities, driver’s licenses, teenage working papers, etc., all need to be restricted to those who are performing in school. Parents need to be required to be participants as well. It has been proposed elsewhere that parents be charged for remedical coursework.

    Flat screens, gameboys, x-boxes, all need to be regarded as priviledges for those who are completing their educational obligations.

    As long as education is voluntary and free we cannot expect more focus upon it from many. As Obama has put it, “No amount of money can buy achievement.”

    Those countries that have overtaken us seem to have learned that it is only with focus that you can achieve results. We don’t seem to be able to understand this.

    • Marla says:

      I completely agree with your statements about working papers, driver’s licenses etc being restricted and based on academic performance. Of course, it does lead to the question, where does this leave the learning disabled child? Should they be held to the same standards as a “ordinary” (please notice the quotes) child? Parents definitely should be held accountable for their child’s academic progress! A parent truly is a child’s first teacher. Teachers can only do the best they can with what they are given. If a student repeatedly does not attend class, or practice what they have been taught via homework/studying, or use the strategies taught to solve a problem, the teacher can be the Einstein of teachers, that child is not going to achieve much progress. As opposed to the parents who do ensure attendance, homework completion, attend teacher conferences, that child will make large amounts of progress due largely to the fact of education being valued in the home. Nowadays, emphasis is on many other things, such as sports and dance, or materialistic things like video games. An education is the only way to ensure progress both personally, professionally and even economically. What is going to happen to our country if the best a child is going to achieve is mediocrity?

  4. The decline of American education did not start under this political administration or the last, or under one political party or the other. Those who live in politics see the world through that lens. And that is understandable since we now look to politicians for almost every answer.

    But the decline started in the 1950′s and 1960′s, and the “attack” on the system was from within. In 1956, Bloom’s Taxonomy was published and subsequently adopted as the foundational framework for all of education and testing. This Industrial-Age framework is misaligned with how the mind innately learns and explains. Education Reform needs to include “fundamental framework” reform. This is the only way to move our educational frameworks out of the Industrial-Age and into the next age: The Explanation Age. For more information on Explanation Age frameworks, visit: http://goo.gl/EnxD5

  5. Leroy says:

    The author of this article should look at facts and not his opinions. The reason he is calling vouchers an “attack on American Education” is because he’s defending a failed policy. America’s public school system teaches no values, no entrepreneurship, and requires no parental involvement in the choosing process, hurting the American Family. America’s Public school system is inefficient. It has failed. America had its best test scores ever when one-half the population attended Catholic School. Vouchers are the answer. Why don’t the parents of poor and middle class children have the same choice to pull their kids out of the same failing schools President Obama has deemed unfit for his children as a father?

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