K-12 school districts warn of ‘catastrophe’ from Covid-19-related budget cuts

Placeholder when loading item promotions

As they face unprecedented challenges and financial costs, leaders of K-12 public school districts across the country are warning of dire consequences from sharp budget cuts by state lawmakers trying to deal with the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The alarm was sounded by school leaders in 62 cities, who sent a letter to Congress through the Great City Schools nonprofit council, asking Congress for billions of dollars in new government education aid and warning that about 275,000 teachers in their counties could be made redundant simply because of budget cuts caused by a drop in state and local revenues during the crisis. (You can see the full letter below.) These would add to existing shortages in virtually every state.

“Dark clouds are forming on the educational horizon that will spell disaster unless Congress intervenes,” the letter said. “Significant revenue shortfalls are looming for local school districts, which will add to the disruption students are already facing. In fact, about 40 to 50 percent of the school district’s revenue comes from local sources, which are expected to decline sharply in the coming months. That drop in sales will come on top of more widely reported revenue losses from government sources in the coming months. Several large school districts are now forecasting a 15 to 25 percent cut in overall receipts for the next school year.”

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Thursday released a budget analysis showing a $54.3 billion budget deficit through the summer of 2021, with projections that K-12 public schools could lose about 20 percent of their state funding . The superintendents of California’s two largest school systems — Austin Beutner of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Cindy Marten of the San Diego Unified School District — warned that “irreparable harm” would be done to children if this happened.

Meanwhile, some counties across the country have already started taking furloughs and even laying off some employees.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California has begun laying off dozens of employees, as has Lawrence Township Public Schools in New Jersey, which is laying off 22 full-time employees and 80 school assistants; and the Randolph Public School District in Massachusetts, where dozens of workers – including teaching assistants and food service workers – have been told they will take full-time or part-time leave. Many other counties warned their communities of upcoming furloughs and layoffs.

Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said Thursday that Congress must help states balance their budgets or else “at the expense of education.” will go”.

“Virginia has shown what happens with these deficits. Just recently, the General Assembly came back and had to pass budget adjustments that canceled a 2 percent hike in [K-12] Teachers, funds for high poverty schools and more counselors and freeze [college] Tuition fees,” Scott said. “All of this is based on revenue estimates.”

Similar cuts are taking place in other states. For example:

  • In New York, before the pandemic began, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) proposed a 3 percent increase in education funding for 2020-2021. That never happened. Instead, in early April, he and lawmakers approved a budget that slashed K-12 education by $1.1 billion, exactly the amount Congress gave New York school districts in March as part of its $2 trillion budget Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy had been assigned under the Security Act, known as the Cares Act. Hardest hit was New York City, which lost $716.9 million from Cuomo’s cut, according to one analysis from the nonprofit Education Law Center. This analysis also suggests that government cuts to education affect high-poverty school districts the most.
  • In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has ordered all state agencies to cut up to 20 percent of their budgets for the remainder of the state’s fiscal year, which ends June 30 in that state. For K-12 public schools, its plans call for $300.4 million, with cuts targeted in the wealthiest counties.
  • In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has asked state agencies to cut 14 percent of their budgets for the next school, and federal coronavirus relief won’t come close to covering that.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, some states had never fully recovered from the collapse in education funding that began after the 2008 Great Recession. The nonprofit center for budget and policy priorities reported last year that in seven states, state and local school funding in the 2017 school year was at least 10 percent below pre-crisis levels, adjusted for inflation. And it said that a total of 22 states plus the District of Columbia remained below pre-recession levels.

But the Council of the Great City Schools’ letter to Congress, signed by 62 superintendents asking for assistance, says the damage being done to districts because of the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 “will be far more serious and promises to do much more “substantial damage” than that caused by the Great Recession.

“Unlike 2008 and 2009, schools nationwide were forced to close in mid-March and will likely remain closed through the end of the school year,” the letter reads. “As aggressive as schools have been in providing distance learning, districts still need resources to provide electronic learning devices and internet connections to every child. The amount of time devoted to teaching each day is now less than in a normal classroom. Students’ ability to interact with their teachers remains limited. Some teachers have little more than a crash course on how to conduct online learning. And the research on the effectiveness of virtual learning isn’t particularly strong. The truth is, there is simply no substitute for students being with their teachers all day.”

The superintendents were asking for far more money than the $13.5 billion that Congress had earmarked for K-12 education in the Cares Act.

“The down payment you have made in our public education system by providing approximately $13.5 billion in the Cares Act for our schools has been an important lifeline for public education in this country,” the letter said . “But we now urge you to provide a second, substantially larger rate for public school systems while you work on the fourth bill for additional funds.”

In particular, they are looking for new funding:

  • $175 billion in education stabilization funds distributed through the local-level Title I formula, which provides funding for low-income students.
  • $13 billion for the Disability Education Act.
  • $12 billion in additional Title I program funding.
  • $2 billion for e-rates and emergency infrastructure funds that include public schools. E-Rate is the Schools and Libraries program that offers discounts of up to 90 percent to eligible schools and libraries to get affordable telecommunications and Internet access.

Lack of resources in many school districts and low teacher salaries due to underfunding sparked a teacher protest movement in 2018 that began in West Virginia and spread to other states, most of which were Republican-led and where teachers were not legally allowed to go on strike, but did did anyway.

The movement, known as Red for Ed, sought not only more salaries for teachers, some of whom have to work two or three jobs to pay their bills, but more resources for schools that can’t afford them, nurses and counselors to pay or buy enough paper for the educators in each classroom. The coming budget cuts will only worsen the situation that triggered and fueled the strikes.

This is the letter the Council of Great City Schools sent to Congress:

Previous Raptors are guarding Fred VanVleet, who is looking to "pay off" in upcoming free agency
Next How to effectively manage your debt