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Education

Falling Oil Prices Cause State Education Departments To Cut Staff, Reduce Services

By J.r. Sirkin & Elizabeth Rose — November 12, 2019 4 min read

State education departments in several oil-producing states have eliminated hundreds of positions and reduced their services to districts as a result of recent budget cuts, according to state education officials.

In some states, officials say the budget cuts could reduce their department’s role from that of service provider to mere regulator and hinder their reform efforts. They add that service reductions could have an especially heavy impact on small and poor districts that typically rely on state education agencies for technical assistance in such areas as curriculum development.

“The pilot programs, alternative programs, and development programs that are being tried to get us out of the educational doldrums will have to go,” said Joseph F. Kyle, Louisiana’s deputy superintendent of education for management and finance. “We have to spend the money we have on maintaining the system we’ve got, whether that system is good or bad.”

Agencies Bear Brunt

In several states, such as Arkansas and Texas, state agencies have borne the brunt of budget cuts for education because state officials have not wanted to reduce funds going to districts.

State education departments’ roles vary, but in most states they monitor districts, administer federal programs, and coordinate state-sponsored projects designed to enhance education, ranging from government-education programs to drug-awareness projects. In recent years, in part as a by-product of the education·reform movement, state education agencies increasingly have offered technical assistance to school districts.

In Alaska, Arkansas, and Texas, vacant positions are being left unfilled--leading, officials admit, to general reductions in services. In Arkansas, where cuts have been made for the last two years, and in Alaska, where the department’s budget has been trimmed for the last three years, officials say there is not much fat left. Officials in both states worry that oil prices may stay low, forcing even more reductions in staff levels.

According to a spokesman for the Alaska education department, “There are rumors that if the Senate makes all the suggested cuts, the entire public-information department will go.”

In Oklahoma, the governor’s proposal would cut the education department’s budget by 16.5 percent. In Louisiana, the governor has asked for a 22 percent cut for fiscal 1987. In Alaska, education officials are planning for the 13.5 percent cut recommended in the governor’s revised budget, but the reductions have not yet been approved by the legislature and could get larger.

In Texas, the governor has asked all agencies to cut their budgets by 13 percent, although the cuts are not yet final.

The Louisiana education department is down from 1,700 employees three years ago to 1,300, and may eliminate another 100 positions this year, according to Mr. Kyle.

“Where we had two employees before, we now have one, and he or she is spread thin. We’re still providing services, but we may have a slower response time, and those with marginal needs may not be getting served,” he said.

He also said the department has had to curtail “those types of services used by less affluent districts,” such as curriculum-development assistance.

Among specific program cuts: Audits of district transportation programs, formerly conducted annually, now are made every three years; state tuition reimbursements to teachers taking college courses have been eliminated; reimbursements to parents who transport their own children to school have been trimmed from $125 per year to $95, and may be eliminated altogether next year.

In addition, Louisiana must cut $2 million from a $15-million budget for the education of youngsters in state institutions, including handicapped and retarded children.

With a 13.5 percent cut, the Alaska education department’s budget will be about $13.3 million, down from an original appropriation of $15.4 million, not including two schools under the department’s jurisdiction.

Curbs on Equipment, Travel

Harry Gamble, a spokesman for the Alaska department, said that in addition to leaving vacate positions unfilled, officials are planning to eliminate about 10 more positions out of the agency’s current 450.

Like officials in other similarly strapped states, Alaska officials will have to get used to traveling less and not buying new equipment, according to Mr. Gamble.

In Arkansas, the current departmental budget was cut by $644,000, to $7.8 million, according to Truett Goatcher, the state’s associate director of finance and administration. Department officials are not hiring, purchasing equipment, or traveling. Mr. Goatcher says, “All this means a slight reduction in services.”

The Texas Education Agency has implemented similar austerity measures. It is cutting employees, travel, and purchases.

The agency’s budget, trimmed to $36.3 million after a first round of reductions in February, will not provide enough funds to fill 80 vacant positions, according to Terri Anderson, a department spokesman. Also, the department’s 1,000 employees will not receive merit-pay increases, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 16, 1986 edition of Education Week

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