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States Face Bad News on Budgets

The post-election glee in many state capitols has given way to gloom, as governors and lawmakers face serious questions about how they're going to fund schools amid dire financial conditions. The picture is complicated by several factors, which include new officeholders' campaign pledges to A) not raise taxes, or B) not cut education funding, with the promises varying by state and candidate.

States face very different challenges over the next year, but overall, it's not looking good. A couple highlights—or maybe I should say lowlights:

Seeking Expert Advice: Connecticut faces a $3.3 billion budget deficit, and school leaders are bracing for cuts. Democratic Gov.-elect Dan Malloy has pledged not to cut funding for schools. A panel of education leaders, which includes superintendents, teachers' unions, and state board of ed members, are studying how the state and school districts might best absorb cuts or spread the pain around. The panel's recommendations will go to the governor and legislature.

Tax Revenue Drying Up: In Kansas, the state is coping with falling property tax revenue, and rising student enrollment and free-or-reduced price lunch counts. The state faces a $50 million shortfall in school funding. Complicating matters: Republican Gov.-elect Sam Brownback has promised to freeze state spending. A lobbyist for the state's schools board association wonders if that means the state won't be able to replace the eventual loss of federal economic-stimulus money. School districts were already steamed about earlier budget cuts.

Local Voters Say No: In Ohio, many local ballot measures to raise money for schools went down to defeat last Tuesday. That will surely put more pressure on districts, given that state funding could be hard to come by. Gov.-elect John Kasich, a Republican, has vowed to put more money into classrooms, but it's unclear where that money will come from. The state faces an estimated $8 billion deficit. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, cash-strapped local districts are busy planning school-funding ballot measures—for next year.

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