In a column for the Education Opportunity Network, blogger Jeff Bryant paints a stark picture of how state budget fights are decimating public schools and stripping them of the resources they need to support students and teachers. From North Carolina, where teachers have to work at least 10 years before seeing an annual salary of $40,000, to Philadelphia, where the vast majority of school buildings have water damage and fire and electrical hazards, it's clear that what happens in the statehouse has huge ramifications on classroom environments and resources.
Here are three poignant examples that Bryant highlights:
"In Egg Harbor Township, lack of funding has forced the district to cut 100 staff positions since 2009-10, increase class sizes, keep kindergarten classes at half-day only, and limit preschool to only 72 students, 'a small fraction of the more than 900 students eligible.' The district has cut elementary world language and music and elementary and middle school gifted and talented programs and is longer offering summer school for middle and high school students, or math and reading specialists to help middle school students who have fallen behind. Extracurricular activities such as middle school athletics, honors programs, and high school clubs are history. The few non-academic programs remain have 'pay to play' fees which limit low-income kids from participating.
In another Jersey district, Elizabeth, the district no longer has the funds to give struggling students extended learning available from afterschool and summer school. 'Elizabeth is a large, urban school district serving about 23,000 students. The student body is 90 percent black or Hispanic; 82 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and 17 percent have limited English proficiency.'
In the Lindenwold district, funding is so inadequate elementary and middle schools specialists – including art, music, and therapists – provide instruction from movable carts or in small spaces, such as media rooms or offices. 'The elementary schools have no designated gymnasium, assembly, or cafeteria space; instead, each school has one multipurpose room suitable for only half the student body.'
Many states are in the middle of budget season, and education funding is one of the key holdups for lawmakers struggling to get their state budgets passed. In some cases, it's a matter of state finances still recovering from the Great Recession, during which the federal government's stimulus package was able to bolster state education funding. In other cases, however, the lack of funds for schools is a result of deliberate decisions to cut state income taxes.
You can read Bryant's full column here. And if you want to know how your state fares in terms of education funding, check out the Education Law Center's most recent "Is School Funding Fair?" report card. For ideas on how states can raise new revenue to invest in schools, check out our "Investing in the Future" toolkit.