The Attack on American Education

college studentsOver 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. Universities have to tame their budgets, especially for student amenities that have nothing to do with education.

But considering the increases in our population of young people and their educational needs, and the challenges posed by the new global economy, more resources are surely needed.

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. cont’d on Page 2


  1. Linda Doran says

    Two comments: While I agree with the first writer that reducing the size of any bureaucracy is generally a good idea, given the history of this country, especially its history of discriminating against people of color and putting religious ideals such as evolution ahead of critical thinking, placing education under the control of individual states is a truly bad idea. I have similar socioeconomic concerns about the family-focused approach of the second writer. Parental involvement usually is a good thing, but it tends to work best for families that can afford to make one parent available. In the case of low-income families and single-parent families, the parents spend most of their time working. Our education system needs to be able to help kids whose parents just aren’t available — otherwise, we end up with more kids in gangs, on drugs, and on the streets. Throwing law enforcement at the problem doesn’t solve it. As much as we talk about needing to win the hearts and minds of people in countries like Afghanistan, we also need to win the hearts and minds of our own disadvantaged youth.

  2. Joe Weinstein says

    Talk about missing forests for trees! That happens all the time in talk which is determined to be right-wing-politically-correct.

    Commenter George A. has a point when it comes to K-12 public schools, but how would – and why should – his nostrums make any difference for our universities?? Indeed, why should we want to run research and higher education as in-loco-parentis institutions, based on presumptions of student non-maturity and non-responsibility?

    Meanwhile, for children and youth of ages corresponding to conventional K-12 schools, the real need is to encourage parents to be responsible for and involved in and taking some charge of their own kids development and education.

    Meeting this need will indeed drastically improve control of school costs; but it will do far more than that: it will improve what counts: the quality of education and development of our young people.

    Parents’ responsibility for and involvement with their own kids does not equate to and should not be seen as equating to taking charge of big institutions. That latter task might benefit, but only marginally, from ‘local control’ of public schools. In practice ‘local’ control typically is pro-forma: it means simply dictation by local or metropolitan, rather than statewide, versions of the same old power elite – which consists largely of folks who are either not parents at all or are parents only by coincidence, not focus. As George A. admits, focus on such local control of schools will at best achieve a ‘fighting chance’ for parents (or anyone else) to insist on wise school expenditures.

    In my personal experience, most parents aren’t interested – and shouldn’t have to be interested – in fighting chances to help administer school districts and big-time budgets. Parents don’t have time for this. The most we can hope (and should have to hope) is that parents have time to spend directly with and for their own kids and their kids’ immediate friends.

    The better approach – for cost-cutting as well as for more profound reasons of better development and education – is to encourage more home-‘schooling’ – of both single-family and multi-family-cooperative varieties – and to recognize that kids’ full development, especially in a society that likes to pride itself on promoting freedom and individual explorations and initiative, does not equate to enforced all-day mass incarceration.

    For all this, teacher unions can help, not hinder, if the ‘professionalism’ they choose to defend and promote is one where parents are welcomed as collaborators in school rooms and even more welcomed as partners at home.

    Even standardized tests can help, if they are used and developed primarily not for bureaucratic judgments of average performance of masses of kids, school by school, but on the individual level as aids to parents who seek to ensure adequate education and progress of their own kids.

  3. George A. Crackuh says

    It’s amazing how consistently Mr. Reich manages to miss the forest for the trees.

    The context for these minimal balancing efforts is this: We are now spending about Ten Thousand Dollars Per Year on each child in public school.

    $10,000 – per child – per year. Outrageous! And for what? A truly lousy product.

    In any sane setup expenses would carefully controlled. You know, like concerned individuals who responsibly watch their own personal budgets. But who cares about costs or results, as long as the distant taxpayer is footing the bill.

    Worldwide, only Switzerland spends more. But for their money, the Swiss buy excellent educations for all their kids, and it is all under canton-level, not confederation, control. We, on the other hand, have a vast federal Rube Goldberg apparatus corrupting the states and supplying a pernicious glut of mediocrity for our kids. Smaaaart – NO.

    Public, private, or charter, each local community should be funding and controlling their own schools. That way, the parents will watch how their own precious money is spent, and they will have a fighting chance to insist it be spent wisely.

    The federal government needs to get completely out of the school-ruling and the school-funding business and leave it all to the states, through their communities alone, to decide how best to educate their children.

    We should indeed attack the problems of our educational system. And freeing our children from the oppressive weight of the teacher’s unions is the very first problem we should attack.

    So, let me suggest a great first cost-cutting and freedom-enhancing step Congress can take: simply outlaw all public-employee unions. After all, it should be obvious by now that the NEA does *not* have the best interests of our children anywhere near the top of their priority list. Right after that, we can close down the massively expensive and completely unnecessary US Department of Education.

    Those two steps alone would probably lift the IQ’s of our kiddies by 10 points apiece.

    May the local experimentation (AND the budget-slashing) run free!

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