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Little Relief in Sight

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By Dan Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators

Today, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) released the latest in its reports examining the impact of the economic recession on schools. The news is not good.

The study, "Weathering the Storm: How the Economic Recession Continues to Impact Schools," is the twelfth in a series conducted by AASA. The study is based on a survey of 528 school administrators in February 2012.

Respondents to the AASA survey anticipate new budget cuts again in their districts in the 2013-14 school year, though the projected cuts may not be as deep as in the earlier years of the recession. Respondents also identified factors that could undermine whatever fragile economic stability is starting to take hold in their communities, including the cessation of emergency federal funding and the very real threat of drastic mid-year cuts related to sequestration. School districts are bracing for the cessation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Emergency Education Jobs Fund dollars this school year. Administrators are also bracing for deep cuts (9.1 percent reductions) in January 2013, stemming from the Budget Control Act and sequestration.

Specifically, the survey documents that

  • School districts across the nation continue to report significant budget cuts.

    • More than three quarters (81.4 percent) of districts described their district as inadequately funded, down only slightly from 84 percent in Dec. 2010.

    • Nearly three-quarters (71.2 percent) of school districts reported a cut in state/local revenues between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
  • Efforts to avoid or minimize job cuts were short-lived. 

    • Two-thirds (68.2 percent) of respondents eliminated positions in 2010-11, virtually identical to the 68 percent in 2011-12 and the 65.5 percent who anticipate doing so in 2012-13.
  • Budget cuts reach beyond personnel decisions.

    • Fifty-four percent increased class size in 2011-12, and 57.2 percent anticipate doing so in 2012-13.

    • Roughly one-third (30.7 percent) eliminated/delayed instructional improvement initiatives, and 48.3 percent anticipate doing so in 2012-13.

    • While very few (4.2 percent in 2011-12) reduced operations to four-day school week (during the school year), the rate more than doubles (10.2 percent) for those anticipating the reduction in 2012-13.

    • More than 22.3 percent eliminated summer school in 2011-12, and the 29 percent considering it for 2012-13.

This latest survey highlights how the confluence of continued budget cuts and cessation of emergency federal dollars has significantly weakened public education infrastructure across the country. School administrators are having to answer increasingly complex questions about which programs and personnel cuts will do the least harm to their students' education. Each year, the cuts have gone deeper.

Nearly four years after AASA started its Economic Impact Survey series to look at the impact of the economic downturn on the nation's schools, we are still waiting for the growing economic stability at the federal level to reach Main Street. The results of this survey, like the ones before it, demonstrate that school administrators across the nation remain committed to providing the best educational opportunities they can with the limited available resources. It also illustrates that the economic recovery taking hold at the federal level has yet to resonate as loudly at the state and local level.

School leaders are pragmatic about the further cuts they may have to make if sequestration becomes a reality, but we must call upon Congress to head off such drastic cuts. We must also ask Congress to pass quickly the reauthorization of ESEA and to increase the nation's investment in formula programs like Title I and IDEA. The longer this crisis lingers in our communities, the harder it will be to revive our schools. These cuts affect us all--teachers, leaders, support personnel, parents and community friends. We must act together.

Read Weathering the Storm: How the Economic Recession Continues to Impact Schools. The previous AASA Economic Impact Study series is available at www.aasa.org/research.aspx. For continuing conversation about the survey and other key education issues, visit the AASA blog at www.aasa.org/AASAblog.aspx and follow the advocacy team on Twitter (@Noellerson).

Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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