Earlier in the year, school leaders faced soaring gas and oil prices, leaving them searching for ways to offset the effects of rising transportation and heating costs. Then, shortly after the new school year began, schools faced another crisis: the collapse of the financial markets on Wall Street.
In between came warnings that state budget deficits and a weakening economy would leave educators with fewer resources as they seek to meet strict federal mandates for student achievement.
A survey of school superintendents in October revealed that school districts in every region of the country are feeling the effects of the economic downturn, with many having already delayed technology purchases, cut non-essential travel, and increased class sizes, among other measures. The survey also suggested the poor economy could threaten the gains in student achievement that schools have fought so hard to attain–and it could undermine their capacity to deliver essential services in the coming year.
Wall Street’s meltdown has hit some schools particularly hard. Some Wisconsin school districts are reeling after a risky financial investment involving an Irish bank called Depfa produced disastrous consequences–including severe injury to school operating budgets and teacher retirement funds. And about 1,000 private schools and colleges were left scrambling to pay their bills after an investment fund known as Commonfund partially froze withdrawals amid the credit crunch.
On the bright side, enrollment in online degree programs continues to rise, and officials predict a sustained increase in online enrollment as the economy sours and good jobs become scarcer, according to report published in November. And as schools look to trim expenses, many are implementing creative solutions–such as virtual field trips, four-day work weeks, and "green" technologies and practices–that will serve them well even after the economy recovers.