Why school stakeholders should worry about the ‘funding cliff’

Districts that have managed to avoid painful cuts no longer might have a choice.

More than 80 percent of schools anticipate budget cuts in the upcoming school year, and administrators are scrambling to maintain school operations in the face of diminishing funds, warns a grim report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP).

That could hinder education reform efforts that are needed to keep the country competitive in the global economy, the center warns.

The report, “Strained Schools Face Bleak Future: Districts Foresee Budget Cuts, Teacher Layoffs, and a Slowing of Education Reform Efforts,” states that until recently, school districts were able to soften the blow to school budget cuts using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and the Education Jobs law. However, as those funds near depletion, school districts are planning to tighten their belts even more for the 2011-12 school year.

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Based on a survey of 457 school districts, the report states that 84 percent of respondents anticipate school budget cuts in 2011-12, up from 70 percent in 2010-11. Schools received about $80 billion from ARRA between 2009 and 2010 and $10 billion through the Education Jobs measure, both of which were designed to preserve or create jobs in the education sector. Less than one-third of the nation’s school districts expect to have any ARRA funds available for use during 2011-12.

“It looks rather bleak,” said Jack Jennings, CEO and president of the CEP. “For the majority of school districts in the country, this will be the third year in a row that they’ve had lower budgets than they’re had the previous year. So for three years in a row it has been a downward spiral for school districts.”

Sixty-one percent of districts that anticipate school budget cuts have plans to cut staff in 2011-12. While this number seems small compared to the 85 percent of districts that cut jobs last year, the percentage is expected to increase, because at the time of the survey many districts had not yet decided where to cut.

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