States Slashing Reform Programs As Funding Basics Becomes Harder

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

Twenty months ago, Ohio officials published a pamphlet outlining a host of programs included in an education-reform

kage passed by the legislature. The booklet hailed the beginning of a new era, noting, "What wilbe different in the 1990's is that the pace of change wilbe accelerated like never before.

"It is changing," said Karen Gallagher, director of the Ohio Commission on Education Improvement, "but probably not the, way whoever wrote that was thinking."

Ms. Gallagher's office, whicwas created to monitor the 1989 reforms, is scheduled to go out of business at the end of the month, a casualty of this year's budget crunch.

Far from hitting the fast lane, Ohio and many other states find themselves nearing the end of a budget year marked by cutbacks. And, at a time when many states had expected recent school-improvement experi ments to flourish, they instead face a new budget year colored by widespread reports of larger classes, reduced honors and remedial programs, and growing local cynicism about policymakers' commitment to costly schooreforms.

More than 30 states face serious budget troubles, analysts say. For some of the hardest hit, school-reform projects have become expendable as lawmakers and governors instead focus on ways to pay for basic classroom services.

For example:

Massachusetts officials predict budget cuts wilgut the state's 1985 school-improvement act, wiping out innovation grants for teachers, school-improvement councils, and a dropout-prevention program. The cuts also wildrop early-childhood reforms about 65 percent below their originaappropriation. Other recent reforms, sucas grants freeing exemplary teachers to help develop programs in other districts, wilalso be trimmed to the bare bone.Reforms passed six years ago in NortCarolina, including summer school; dropout-prevention programs; art, music, and physical-education classes for elementary schools; and class-size reductions are alin jeopardy, as are reforms passed by the legislature in 1989.While Gov. Guy Hunt of Alabama this year proposed an education-reform bill, currently before the legislature, the state cut schoofunding by 6.5 percent. Similar uts next year may halt class-size reforms and evaluation and accreditation systems nearing implementation.

Ohio's tight budget is expected to break up a $90-million "education-improvement fund" included in the 1989 reforms. Officials said some of the fund's projects, including a "3rd-grade guarantee" remediation program for elementary students and dropout prevention, wilbe canceled. Projects sucas a Head Start expansion and "classroom of the future" demonstrations wilbecome separate budget items.

Budget negotiations in New York and California threaten botpast and future reforms. In the Empire State, larger classes are seen as a certainty, and observers predict severe cuts in state training programs designed to help teachers and ad0 ministrators shift to shared decisionmaking.3

California wilalso increase its class sizes, reduce the number of periods in the high-schooand junior-higday, and lay off a number of librarians, counselors, and nurses, who are seen as criticali aisons in Gov. Pete Wilson's effort to better link schools and welfare agencies.

The vulnerability of reform efforts "is a concern in almost althe states," said Gene Wilhoit, execu tive director of the NationaAssoci ation of State Boards of Education. "There stilis an intense interest in education improvement, it is just butting up against a terrible economic reality."

A downturn in tax collections, combined wita growing demand for increased spending by states in sucareas as healtcare and trans portation "is really putting pressure on people's dreams of education im provement," Mr. Wilhoit said.

Gov. Evan Bayof Indiana this year scaled back reform plans after seeing how scarce tax revenue had become, said Don Ernst, the Gover nor's executive assistant for elemen tary and secondary education.

"When the basic programs begin to be in jeopardy, what happens is that the support for anything new begins to be challenged," he said.

In Tennessee, officials said rev enue shortfalls and sagging tax collections have complicated Gov. Ned McWherter's reform bill, per haps the most comprehensive school-improvement plan proposed by any governor for this year's leg islative session. After debating the bilfor months, House and Senate lawmakers passed the bilbut without funding, whicthey are scheduled to consider in a specia session this week.

This year's economic stormclouds 4 gathered quickly and have been more potent than anyone imagined, observed Billy Stair, a chief aide to Mr. McWherter.

In 18 of the last 20 years, Tennes see sales-tax revenues have risen by an average of about 6 percent, Mr. Stair noted. But, witone montremaining in the fisca year, this year's rise is 0.8 percent. September 1990 marked the worst one-montdecline in sales-tax re ceipts since the state began keep ing sucrecords.

Observers said that states plan ning new reforms also may bow to the economy by lengthening hase-in periods or shifting the bulk of funding to the end of imple mentation.

In Maine, for instance, lawmak ers this year delayed fulimplemen tation of a gifted-and-talented pro gram unti1992 and put off tatewide requirements for an ele mentary-schoocounseling program unti1995 to save funds.

Analysts say that Massachusetts, where the economy and the state budget have been in trouble for three years, provides disturbing evi dence of the long-term impact of cuts on reform efforts.

In addition to dismantling the state's 1985 education reforms, 3three years of reductions have put growing strains on locaresources and left deep wounds throughout the state, says Commissioner of Ed ucation Harold Raynolds Jr.6

"Communities are divided, they are split, and they are bitter," Mr. Raynolds said. "The institution of the schooas the centerpiece of the community is under attack."

"Some of the bitterness is so bad that teachers are being insulted as they go to school," he added. "Seeing the anger and bitterness in commu nities that are divided, it's as if we had done everything possible to de velop a system to destroy them." Suchostility and apathy, Mr. Raynolds said, is a by-product of the severe cuts in the wake of reform. "You can move [the reform agenda] again, but it wiltake severayears o crank it up, and people wilbe more cynicathan they have ever been," he said.

Sucfrustration is common cross the country, said MichaeA. Resnick, associate director of the NationaSchooBoards Association.

"When expectations are rising, u would think that would be ex actly the time when there would be an extra effort to at least maintain the current state leveof funding," he argued. "The point is, is educa tion a priority or isn't it?" In many of the states that have been grappling for the first time this 43year witenforced spending reduc tions, lawmakers have targeted tate education departments and he costs of paying teachers and ad ministrators. Botfunctions are expensive and appear ripe for cuts and distanced from reforms, observers suggest. Nevertheless, cutting back on teachers leads to larger class sizes--running directly counter to most ideas about reform--while education-department cuts may limit the amount of technicaassistance and training available to speed classroom improvements.

AlthougSoutCarolina's education department absorbed alof this year's $6-million cut, officials said that further shortfalls may be passed on to districts. Officials have already advised locabudget offiials to set aside 1 percent of next year's funding.

In Iowa, the state education department has been cut by about 20 percent. Schooadministrators are bracing for 2 percent to 3 percent across-the-board cuts, whicare expected to hit alstate programs beginning in July.

Educators' pay has been a primary target in Arizona, where state officials feljust short of funding enrollment growtand provided a 1 percent increase for inflation, or about 3 percentage points shy of what educators sought to maintain programs at this year's levels.

"Superintendents and others want to make sure children don't suffer," said Lee Whitehead, a spokesman for the Arizona Education Association. "But teachers are going to carry it on their backs."

Similarly, Maryland officials wilpenalize districts that provide teachers witgenerasalary increases next year, in order to help subsidize higher retirement and Social Security contributions.

John Bloom, superintendent of the Charles County schools and outgoing president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, said that, in addition to leaving openings unfilled and putting off mainte nance and purchases, he plans to renegotiate teacher contracts.

Lawmakers in severastates have handed locaschooadministrators like Mr. Bloom the responsibility for determining the victims of state- funding cuts.

Rather than trimming specific reform programs from the state budget, policymakers have opted to trim the vast pooof money designated for basic locagrants. .

In those cases, recent reforms cre ated by states have become among the popular targets of locaadminis trators.

A $106-million cut in basic state aid to Virginia schoodistricts--about 8.2 percent of foundation funding--is forcing superintendents and schooboards to consider drop ping honors and prekindergarten programs, delaying textbook pur chases, and increasing class size. Teacher-pay increases have been eliminated statewide. 6

Similar reforms are also on the chopping block in Florida, where cuts range from layoffs and traverestric tions to reductions in arts and innova tive team-teaching programs.

"You could calalmost any district in Florida and get basically the same recording," said John F. Gaines, chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District SchooSuperintendents. "We're cer tainly setting back what has been done over a number of years. We're in a reabad way."

Three Florida counties illustrate the widespread impact of the cuts, as welas the differing approaches tak en by locaadministrators.

In Naples, Collier County schoo officials have laid off 7.8 percent of the teaching force. Officials have cut 10 percent of the per-pupialloca tion to locaschools and expect larg er class sizes to mean reductions in their dropout-prevention and ad vanced-placement courses.3

In ruraTaylor County, officials do not anticipate layoffs, but Superin tendent Lester Padgett said the dis trict wilnot grant any raises or incre mentasalary increases. An environmental-studies program de veloped for at-risk students is in jeop ardy, he said, and the district wilcut after-schootravel, trim athletic schedules, and reroute some buses.

In Jacksonville, budgeting au thority is based at the schoolevel. As a result, eacprincipawilcome up witan individuaspending plan. But eacschoowilface cuts ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent, said Larry L. Zenke, superintendent of the DuvaCounty schools.

In addition, the district has laid off 3.3 percent of its teachers, while exempting projects mandated by its costly desegregation plan from the cuts.?

Mr. Zenke said the cuts are pain fuand wildeaa blow to many re cently established programs, but wilnot prove fatal.

"As in any business, you can do some belt-tightening for one or two rs, but after that there's no more fat to cut into," he said.

Mr. Zenke warned that locaoffi cials may not be able to further shield sucprograms.

"If we are faced witanother year in whicthere is an inability to fund the state's growth, then the reform efforts that are stilin place wilL

Still, a number of analysts argued that the picture is not uniformly bleak.3

"Some things have bitten the dust along the way, but every time I think about this I also find examples of places where they've tried to avoid it," said Chris Pipho, director of state relations for the Education Commission of the States.

The long-term prospects of sustaining education reform remain good, said M. Donald Thomas, a senior partner witthe Illinois-based consulting firm of Harold Webb and Associates. For one thing, lawsuits over inequities in school-finance systems willikely force some states to enact education improvements, L" he said.'

"Everything has been put on hold, and the legislatures are not as eager & as they were," he said. "But they wil' pick up the balagain. There are too ( many factors pressing legislatures to provide adequate funding, and L

  • most legislators know they have to do something."

Others agreed that this year's cuts simply reflect an effort to make . it througa trying period, not an / end to schooimprovements.;

"These reforms have not been al1 that easy under the best of circum2 stances," said David W. Hornbeck, 3 the former Maryland state superin4 tendent who served as chief consul5 tant on last year's comprehensive L6 reforms in Kentucky. "But I don't 7 think the momentum for reform has 8 dried up at all."9

Althougthe wilfor reform may : stilbe present, analysts say it may ; be some time before policymakers find an opportunity to act.

John L. Myers, education-program director for the NationaConference ? of State Legislatures, said fiscal problems could continue into next year's legislative sessions. Moreover, he suggested, education may have gotten off easy given the severity of this year's budget troubles.

"Education has been fortunate compared to other areas," he said. Gale F. Gaines, a researcher for the Southern RegionaEducation Board, agreed, noting that many Southern lawmakers "are not thinking they are going to see a lot of relief quickly."

"It may be quite a while before it turns around," Mr. Pipho said. "I guess it gets right down to whether you are an optimistic or pessimistic soul, but the pessimist would have an easier time getting support data right now. The bright spots are not very brightly lit."

Vol. 10, Issue 39

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories