With the state forced to come to grips with a $3.7 billion budget deficit everyone knows cuts are coming to the K-12 education, the single biggest item in the state’s general fund budget. The how and where of budget cuts is just as important as their size. Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom is to weather the economic storm and apply across-the-board cuts.
This is a bad idea. Doing so falsely assumes the economic downturn is a temporary hiccup and that all programs deserve to be treated equally.
What is needed now – more than ever – is to know how to remake and resize education spending but not impact student learning. It’s a challenging though not impossible task. Fortunately, Michael Petrilli and Marguerite Roza of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute provide policymakers with a blueprint of 15 ideas for how school districts can “smartly” reduce education budgets. The fifteen ideas include:
- End last hired, first fired practices
- Remove class size mandates
- Eliminate mandatory salary schedules
- Eliminate state mandates regarding work rules and terms of employment
- Remove seat time requirements
- Merge categorical programs and ease onerous reporting requirements
- Create a rigorous teacher evaluation system
- Pool health care benefits
- Tackle the fiscal viability of teacher pensions
- Move toward weighted student funding
- Eliminate excess spending on small schools and small districts
- Allocate spending for learning disabled students as a percent of population
- Limit the length of time that students can be identified as English Language Learners
- Offers waivers of non-productive state requirements
- Create bankruptcy-like loan provisions
Granted not all these recommendations will be applicable and easy to implement. However, they represent a far better option for dealing with the current crises than slap-dash across the board budget cuts. If you’re seriously interested in learning how our schools can navigate the current crisis, Petrilli and Roza’s suggestions should be considered a starting point for state and local discussions on the education budget.