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Enough Is Enough

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I have often told superintendents that budget cuts can actually be helpful if they force a focus on setting priorities and improving efficiency. But there comes a time when enough is enough, and I believe we have now passed that point. In fact, I believe the clouds are gathering for a perfect storm that will set our schools up for failure. The clouds are numerous, but here are three of the most troubling:

1. The sequester resulting from federal budget cuts

2. State budget cuts

3. Fear at the local level

As I elaborate on each of these, keep in mind that the same people who contend our schools are not performing at high enough levels are the same ones who oppose the funding our schools need to succeed. They fail to recognize that support is critical if we have any chance of educating students to be prepared for the jobs of the future and the international economy that will provide those jobs.

The Sequester: The recent report, Surviving Sequester, Round One: Schools Detail Impact of Sequester Cuts sums up the negative impact this funding - or non-funding - scheme is having on children. The report notes:

The cuts of sequestration will translate into reductions in and eliminations to personnel,

curriculum, facilities and operations. Respondents reported that the cuts of sequestration would

mean reducing professional development (59 percent), eliminating personnel (53 percent),

increasing class size (48 percent) and deferring technology purchases(46 percent). The bottom line is that schools and students continue to pay the price for failed federal spending policy.

Bound by the responsibility to pass on‐time balanced budgets, superintendents described efforts to offset cuts in 2013‐14, but expressed concern about additional sequester cuts in the future. Through this series of surveys, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has documented that budget cuts started at the areas that least directly impact student learning. As further cuts became necessary, school leaders found themselves having to make cuts to areas that most directly affected student earning (teacher jobs). While some states and schools have started to recover from these recession‐era cuts--and could offset the impact of the sequester--the reality is that sequestration can reverse this positive economic stability.

State Budget Cuts: Although some states are beginning to recover from the economic downturn, many are still cutting their budgets. A recent Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) legislative report noted increases in several states' education budgets. But as these states move forward, states like Kentucky are put farther behind with flat or reduced education spending.

Local Budget Fears: There are some cases where school boards are able to increase local funding to help offset state and federal reductions. But many local school board members hesitate to use local dollars to supplement the losses because they fear state and federal officials will never do what they should to provide for schools and children. So many local boards are trying to hold firm - and it's our kids who will suffer.

The nation's top business leaders understand the need for high expectations and rigorous standards to prepare students for college and career. Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, wrote an op-ed about the need for the Common Core State Standards. They wrote; "Business leaders not only want to see U.S. students poised for personal success, we want to see them equipped with the skills to be productive employees and strong contributors to our economy. Our future is on the line. We urge governors and state legislators not to squander this opportunity to turn America's education system around."

There is no question that we must embrace the higher standards for our kids. But we must also give our teachers and schools the tools that are necessary for high-quality implementation with fidelity.

We are at a critical crossroads. We can either continue on a path where our future will be determined by countries that do a much better job of educating their people, or we can step up now and make the investments that will ensure we are an educated country that determines its own future.

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