Countdown to May Revise: Schools Already Reeling From Deep Budget Cuts

How have recent budget cuts impacted schools? Talk to a student, teacher, or principal and you will get an earful. Indeed, state spending on K-12 education was cut by more than $1,000 per student (13.1 percent) between 2007-08 and 2010-11. California has also reduced spending on educational data systems, limiting access to information on the programmatic impact of cuts. The lack of data led some organizations to survey school officials, and the results were grim.

A Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) survey conducted last fall found that recent cuts led to significant impacts on school programs. For example, the LAO survey found that:

  • More than half (58 percent) of responding school districts cut their number of instructional days in 2010-11 compared to 2008-09, and 30 percent shortened their school year by a week;
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of schools discontinued their high school class size reduction programs; and
  • More than one-fourth (26 percent) discontinued programs supported by arts and music grants.

Findings from a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) survey conducted last summer highlighted the effects of state budget cuts in high schools. The UCLA survey of high school principals found that:

  • Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of respondents increased class sizes;
  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) reduced or eliminated summer school; and
  • One-half (50 percent) reported fewer counselors, in a state that already has nearly the most students per counselor in the nation.

While federal dollars provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped schools mitigate cuts, the vast majority of those dollars will be gone by the end of this school year. As a result, many schools are on the edge of a funding cliff. That’s why school superintendents at a recent Senate Budget Committee hearing called the prospect of an “all-cuts” budget unthinkable.

What would an “all-cuts” budget mean for California’s schools? Budget Bites readers can find a great tool produced using a CBP analysis that allows users to point to a map and see what an “all-cuts” budget would mean for their school district’s funding. The tool, developed by Parents for Great Education, demonstrates that parents understand how an “all-cuts” budget would have devastating consequences and the need for a balanced approach to solving the state’s budget woes.

—Jonathan Kaplan