As perplexing as this spring has been, the next school year could be the toughest ever. It looks complicated and challenging. Here’s the problem: costs will be higher and revenues will be lower. What makes this the perfect storm is that it happened suddenly and dramatically increased the level of challenge and cost for school districts. There are at least six reasons school will cost more next year including addressing remediation needs, addressing trauma, taking preventative measures, dual programming, additional hygiene, and new expectations. Dr. Marguerite Roza, who for 18 months has been warning districts to get ready for a downtown, anticipates “anywhere between 5-20% impacts on state budgets which could bring 1- 8% impacts on districts.” She adds, “The financial implications depend on how long states constrain their economies and whether/how much stimulus states will get.”
Donors have responded nimbly and have shown their commitment to meeting the needs of their communities and grantees. As state and local leaders directed schools to close their doors and students began to learn from home, our members have been doing several things: 1. Universally, they checked in with their grantees (e.g., schools and school networks, community-based and advocacy organizations, content providers, etc.) to find out their situations and specific needs. 2. Many donors converted program-specific grants to general operating funds and adjusted outcome metrics. 3. Some provided emergency grants to meet specific school or community needs (e.g., tablets, laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots, and grab-and-go meals). 4. Some donors paid out grant commitments earlier than planned, given long-term concerns about revenue or organizational sustainability. 5. Other donors have gone beyond their typical grantmaking commitments to ensure student learning continues.
If historical patterns repeat, public college and university budgets will be slashed, sending tuition and student loan debt skyward. Some institutions will be so starved of funding that they will effectively cease to be “public” at all. Others will have a greatly diminished ability to help students learn. Nationwide, the effect of the last recession on university finances was partly offset by tuition increases financed by federally guaranteed student loans. But that just shifted the problem from one place to another. When Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, Americans owed about $660 billion in outstanding student loan debt. That amount is over $1.6 trillion today. Alarm about the student debt problem grew in volume over the last decade as debt totals climbed. In the future, colleges and universities can’t rely on students and parents borrowing another trillion dollars to make ends meet. Many are already taking out the maximum allowable amount of federal loans.
Together with a task force of accomplished educational leaders—including former state chiefs, superintendents, federal education officials, and charter school network leaders—this report sketches a framework that can help state policymakers, education and community leaders, and federal officials plan appropriately for reopening. As communities and public officials start to think about the problems ahead, states, districts, and schools should consider at least six different buckets of work: school operations, whole child supports, school personnel, academics, distance learning, and general considerations. Because of the unique challenges of this moment, it is imperative that planning start now.
Roza: Waiting for Congress to Bail Out Schools Is a Risky Game of Chicken. Time for Districts to Come Up With Plan B — and for States to Help
I worry that districts are losing precious time by not taking steps now to mitigate the cost side of the equation. Every day the can gets kicked down the road makes it harder to square budgets next year — and more likely that students will pay the price. Careful cuts now can help cushion both teachers and students from more disruptive and deeper panic-induced cuts later. while leaders of large districts point to looming disaster, most haven’t announced any near-term reductions in salaries or furloughs of hourly workers, even where it would mean minimal or no impact on students. Some staff aren’t working full time right now (think crossing guards, bus drivers, custodians, etc.) and could be eligible for federal assistance and/or unemployment if furloughed.
America’s public school system today costs taxpayers over two-and-a-half times more that it did half a century ago—far outstripping changes in enrollment over that time. When federal, state, and local spending is taken together, it stands as one of government’s most-expensive endeavors… It’s clear, however, that K-12 advocates, politicians, the courts, and others over the years have raised expectations of what schools should provide and to whom, and that it takes money to meet those demands. Here are some significant milestones.
The share of the federal budget that goes toward children, including education spending, dipped to just below 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018—the lowest level in the decade. That’s one main conclusion from a new Urban Institute report on federal spending focused on children, including K-12, health care, nutrition, and various tax benefits. However, the report also found that the share of federal aid for children that’s targeted specifically at those from low-income families has grown recently, reaching 61 percent of such spending in 2018. The organization forecasts a gloomier outlook for fans of Washington spending on kids in the next decade. In 2029, interest payments on the national debt are expected to significantly outpace federal spending on children, the Urban Institute says. The report states that share of the budget dedicated to children will get squeezed not just by interest payments on the debt, but also by the growth of mandatory spending on programs like Social Security and Medicare that will serve an aging population.
For a rural, low-income district like Greene County, where funding can sometimes be tight, the challenges are amplified by a lack of resources and access to experiences outside of the immediate community for many students. We have a good relationship with a number of employers in our region, within a 25-mile radius, said Greene County Schools Chief Academic Officer Frank Creech. They sit down together on a routine basis and have conversations around what are the skills gaps that we have, what are the opportunities for students to graduate and come back and work in the surrounding area and stay, to increase the economic development that’s going on in the area. Through those conversations, we’ve developed partnerships with some of the individual employers, and also with funders who have stepped in. And through a collaborative effort, we’ve been able to provide kids with more opportunities, more summer learning, more internships, and even some connections directly into the job market for some of our students who would prefer to do that rather than pursue a four-year college degree. Some specific examples would be a computer integrated machining program that was partially funded through the local community college, Lenoir Community College, as well as the Golden LEAF Foundation.
How are Texas school districts using state pre-K funding to expand educational options for 3- and 4-year-olds? It depends where you look. With just a few short months between the end of the legislative session and the first day of school, administrators had to tackle a catalogue of challenging tasks: hire enough teachers to meet spiking enrollment numbers, advertise the new options to parents living in district boundaries, consider transportation options, and make space in existing elementary schools or portable buildings. That was too much too soon for Frisco ISD, one of multiple school districts that could ask for a temporary waiver from offering full-day pre-K this year, because it doesn’t have enough space for extra classrooms. Lawmakers and advocates have encouraged school districts to partner with federal and private providers, including Head Start and local child care organizations, to increase the number of students they can serve and guarantee high-quality programs.
States’ spending to build, upgrade, and equip school buildings has fallen over the last decade, exacerbating budget challenges many schools already face, an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds. Thirty-eight states cut school capital spending as a share of their overall economy between 2008 and 2017, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. “As a share of the economy, state capital funding for schools— for example, to build new schools, renovate and expand facilities, and install more-modern technologies—was still down 31 percent in fiscal year 2017 compared to 2008, when the Great Recession took hold,” Michael Leachman, senior director of state fiscal research at the progressive think tank, wrote in a blog post. “That’s the equivalent of a $20 billion cut.”