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School District Funding Woes Increase

Schools and the Stimulus

As funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dries up and state and local budgets take a free-fall, school districts are feeling the economic pressure even more.

In a new survey released today by the American Association of School Administrators, 87 percent of respondents said they didn't see an increase in their funding as a result of the stimulus, because their states used the federal funding to plug budget holes, according to the story published this morning by my colleague Alyson Klein.

"The intent of the stimulus, I think, was to have added dollars to school budgets. I think the unintended consequence was that state and local governments used federal dollars to supplant their contribution to school budgets," Dan Domenech, the AASA's executive director, told me this morning. "Most of these school districts ended up with fewer dollars, which is the impetus for the budget cuts taking place this year and that will come the year after and the year after."

Also notable, Domenech said, is a rise in the number of school districts moving to a four-day week in a bid to save money. The idea was popular once before, during the 1970s energy crisis.

The cuts are deep everywhere. Jose Torres, the superintendent of the U-46 school district in Illinois, told the audience yesterday at our leadership forum that he had to slash 1,100 staffers—many of them teachers—because of severe budget cuts in his state.

In New Jersey, nearly 20 percent of school districts have already reported a wage freeze or reduction next year, as they grapple with a cut of $819 million in state aid, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Even with a new infusion from state leaders, the Des Moines, Iowa, school district will still cut $11 million and 172 teachers next year.

What the National Conference of State Legislatures calls the "state revenue nightmare" continues, and it will only get worse in many places. State government tax collections decreased by nearly $67 billion in 2009, income tax revenue decreased nearly 12 percent, and corporate tax collections decreased by nearly 21 percent last year, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

To help stem the tide, the AASA is lobbying for the U.S. Senate to create and pass a measure that would give $23 billion to help save education jobs. A similar measure passed the House of Representatives last year.

"Eighty-five percent of a district's budget is salaries. There isn't that much discretionary money around that can be cut," Domenech said. "Districts have all done that before. The only thing that is left is personnel and salary."

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