This week's disturbing news that Oklahoma schools are so poorly funded some of them may move from five days a week to four got a lot of people's attention, including my colleague Richard Eskow, who called this an example of "the Republican party's sickness of the soul." Unfortunately, the illness is highly contagious.
The contagion stems from revenue shortfalls in states that counted on money that never materialized – at least 29 states, according to Education Week. Although unemployment rates have generally declined in these states, and economies have improved since the Great Recession, lawmakers in many of these states also decided to enact tax cuts and to do nothing about stagnating wages, so income tax and sales tax revenues flattened or even dipped.
Governors in these states say education finance is a priority – at least according to an annual survey of them. The poll, conducted by the Education Commission of the States, asked 42 governors about their education-related priorities. School finance was at the top, with 32 wanting to improve K-12 education through funding. But obviously, these state leaders forgot the revenue side of the equation. Oops!
State lawmakers' inability to do basic arithmetic is having painful impacts on schools, teachers, and children.
Oklahoma is indeed the poster child for the negative consequences. "Funding for classrooms has been shrinking for years," reports the Washington Post, "slicing away hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue." The shift to four-day weeks is not the only consequence of the financial crisis. Art and music programs have been cut, teachers are getting laid off, and those teachers who are left are the worst paid in the nation.
But Oklahoma is just an extreme point on a long continuum of bad.
Somewhere else on that continuum lies North Carolina, where lawmakers passed legislation to lower class sizes in the early grades – arguably a good thing – but then failed to provide schools funding to hire more teachers necessary to meet the new class size mandates. The resulting financial car wreck in schools endangers the jobs of art and music teachers and physical education instructors and nurses, counselors, special education teachers, and other support staff.
Years of financial backsliding in The Tar Heel state has reduced local school budgets to skin and bones, according to local school officials, but many state lawmakers continue to talk about cutting taxes.
A potential solution is mired in North Carolina's General Assembly while some lawmakers contend, astonishingly, that educators are somehow cased this fiasco.
State lawmakers in Kansas have, for years, addressed repeated budget shortfalls with tax cuts that have lead to yet more budget shortfalls. (Why does anyone finds this surprising?) Many schools ran out of money and had to close early. In other district, class sizes ballooned, arr and science programs disappeared, and parents had to pay fees for their children to play sports
In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich recently submitted a budget that would cut funding to two-thirds of the state's districts. The governor's cuts are the result of failures to acknowledge inflation in his calculations and a proposed new funding formula that would hurt districts with enrollment declines, cap funding increases in local districts, and decrease state aid for transportation. Oh, and there's $2 billion more for charter schools.
“This is every superintendent's worst nightmare,” says a district school leader, who announced the budget would necessitate firing 24 teachers and raising fees for kids to participate in school activities such as band, sports, and technology. A letter to the editor of a local Ohio newspaper notes the cuts to transportation would be particularly devastating to rural school districts. The transportation cuts come on top of previous in 2009 that used to help school districts purchase newer and more fuel-efficient school buses. Those funds were diverted to charter schools.
In New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has for years resisted releasing $4.3 billion in "Foundation Aid" a court ruled are due to the schools based on legislation passed in 2007. Cuomo froze the funding increases in 2009.
In an op-ed for a Lower Hudson newspaper, actress Cynthia Nixon describes the difference the additional funding made for her child: "More teachers and aides providing individualized attention, enrichment like art and chess, a richer learning environment … But short-lived, thanks to Gov. Cuomo."
The New York Times reports that In New Jersey, "hundreds of towns," especially those whose student populations are nonwhite and lower-income, "have not gotten their full share of funding" they are due, based on a school formula passed in 2008. The article points to a Jersey district that that was due $23 million, based on the original formula, but only got $9 million. As a consequence of the shortfall, one school has had to pack over 500 students into a single classroom.
Local school leaders in the Garden State complain their schools are "literally crumbling," funding for their pre-k programs have been "flat lined" for five years, and districts have chronic shortages of nurses, guidance counselors, art teachers, custodians, and social workers.
In Illinois, 17 school districts are suing the state, the governor, and his board of education for failing to fund public education in accord with the state constitution.
In Arizona, funding is so bad – the state is 48th in the nation in per-pupil funding – over 2,100 classrooms don't have a teacher and another 2,200 are led by uncertified staff.
The list of state negligence to education funding goes on and on. But the problems are nationwide
The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our public schools a grade of D-plus on its report card on school infrastructure. Over half of our schools need repairs, renovations, or upgrades just to be in "good" condition.
Over 72,000 teachers have created GoFundMe campaigns on the internet to raise fund for classroom supplies their districts can't pay for. Teachers already shell out $530 a year, on average, of their own money on classroom items, including food and clothing for students. In high-poverty schools, that figure jumps to $672.
Research consistently shows there is a direct correlation between what we spend on schools to how well our students perform on achievement tests and other measures. In states that were forced by court order to increase education spending, research shows students experienced gains in student achievement.
Surveys show Americans are generally willing to pay higher taxes to for education, especially if the money is used to pay teachers more and improve facilities and technology.
Yet, political leaders continue to slash taxes instead and redirect more funds to unfounded experiments like charter schools and voucher programs.
It's time to stop treating the symptoms of this disease and go directly to the cause. Vote these idiots out of office.