Education Funding

States Open Fiscal Year on Shaky Ground

By John Gehring — August 06, 2003 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As states limp into the new fiscal year, a recent report shows that at least 11 states made targeted cuts to K-12 education—an area that usually enjoys immunity from the budget knife—in their fiscal 2004 budgets.

Read an executive summary of the report, “State Budget & Tax Actions 2003,” from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

With a handful of states still hammering out their final budgets, the fiscal landscape for education, while austere in general, is far from uniform. Some states were able to keep funding levels consistent with last year’s, while others will see substantial increases.

But fights to retain state school aid were tougher than in the past, a state budget analysis released July 23 by the National Conference of State Legislatures found.

Arturo Perez, a fiscal analyst with the Denver-based NCSL and one of the report’s authors, said that lawmakers are loathe to trim precollegiate education aid. But, he added, rising costs in programs such as Medicaid, coupled with a tepid economy, leaves less room to maneuver. “The fact that K-12 education was not exempt from budget cutting spoke volumes in terms of the situation states were facing,” he said.

The NCSL survey found that states have balanced their budgets through a mix of cost-cutting measures, increasing user fees, and tapping reserve funds. For the second time in nine years, states also had to raise taxes to generate revenue—17 states raised taxes by more than 1 percent.

At the time of the report’s publication, 43 of the 49 states required to balance their budgets had done so. Vermont is the only state not constitutionally required to balance its budget, although as usual the state did so this year. Thirty-one states reported they cut spending to balance their budgets.

State fiscal officers, the report adds, predict that revenues will rebound in fiscal 2004, which began July 1 for most states. As evidence of that optimism, none of the states responding to the survey predicted a deficit for the end of this fiscal year.

Closing the Deal

Nationally, legislatures have been on a whirlwind ride as they’ve scrambled to complete state budgets. But few saw as much turmoil as Nevada.

In June, Silver State lawmakers agreed to a record- high $5 billion budget, but failed to agree on taxes to make it balance.

Later in the month, Gov. Kenny C. Guinn, a Republican, signed the entire state budget, except for the proposed $1.65 billion for K-12 education, which could not be funded without new taxes.

After the lower chamber defeated a plan to pass a stand-alone education budget, Gov. Guinn filed a lawsuit to force lawmakers to act.

The state supreme court ordered the legislature to pass a funding plan for education, and said it could do so with a simple majority, even if new taxes were included.

That decision sparked a new legal battle, as tax increases in Nevada typically require a two-thirds vote. Lawmakers appealed to a federal court in Nevada, which granted a temporary delay of the budget vote. But the legislators later lost when the court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over the state supreme court.

Finally, on July 22, the legislature passed a tax increase and $1.65 billion for K-12 education, a slight increase over last year’s amount. Though relieved, some school district officials noted that they delayed hiring and other spending pending a budget deal.

Next door, California just last week wrapped up a budget that closed most of the state’s record $38 billion deficit after a 29-hour continuous session and weeks of partisan bickering.

The $100 billion spending plan, which relies heavily on borrowing, includes fee increases at the University of California and community colleges, but fully funds K-12 education at levels required by Proposition 98, a voter-approved measure that, with some exceptions, entitles the state’s schools to the amount allocated the previous year. According to observers in California and local news reports late last week, Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, was expected to sign the budget over the weekend. The budget deal took on added significance because of an upcoming recall election on the governor. (“Calif. School Groups Denounce Davis Recall Election,” this issue.)

Lean Times

Belt-tightening has hit states that have not seen budget cuts to elementary and secondary education in several years.

In Massachusetts, for example, a slumping economy and a 20 percent reduction in state aid to cities and towns, part of which goes to local schools, has led to teacher layoffs and other program reductions. School administrators in the 62,800-student Boston school system, the state’s largest district, have been forced to lay off more than 800 teachers in the largest downsizing of staff in 20 years.

State funding to help provide tutors and other remedial services for students struggling to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam required of all students for graduation has also shrunk.

“As frustrated as we are and as angry as we are, you want to kick the nearest shin or slap the nearest wrist, but the only wrist we have to slap is the invisible hand of the economy,” said Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

In Oregon, meanwhile, budget problems were so bad that nearly 100 of the state’s districts cut days from the last school year to save money. As of press time last week, Oregon had still not completed a state budget. Lawmakers last week passed a bill to keep the government functioning until Aug. 31.

Some lawmakers kept things from going from bad to worse.

In New York, Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, had proposed $1.2 billion in education cuts, including state aid for prekindergarten programs. (“N.Y. Governor Proposes Deep Cut in School Aid to Fill Big Budget Gap,” Feb. 5, 2003.)

Legislators fought back.

They restored a record amount of school aid—$997 million—to the governor’s budget and saved pre-K funding. “The legislature was genuinely heroic, but a cut is still a cut,” said Robert Lowry, the associate director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, referring to the 1 percent spending reduction from last year’s level in the K-12 budget.

For many state legislators and school administrators, bare- bones budgets mean stretching their resources thin as more rigorous requirements from the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 kick in.

During the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in San Francisco last month, Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, the Democratic chairman of Connecticut’s joint education committee, summed up the challenges, at least as he sees them.

“This so-called landmark legislation has land-mine costs, and these costs will undoubtedly explode,” he said. “This couldn’t happen at a worse time.”

Related Tags:

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leading Systemic Redesign: Strategies from the Field
Learn how your school community can work together to redesign the school system, reengineer instruction, & co-author personalized learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding How Districts Should Spend Federal School Safety Money
Districts should focus on the mental health needs of students, according to a Center for American Progress report.
3 min read
Image of money setting gears into play.
Laura Baker/Education Week and taweesak petphuang/iStock/Getty
Education Funding Schools Need Billions More to Make Up for Lost Learning Time, Researchers Argue
The projected price tag far exceeds ESSER aid already provided to help students recover from the pandemic.
5 min read
A man standing on the edge of a one dollar bill that is folded downward to look like a funding cliff.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding EPA Doubles Aid for Electric, Natural Gas-Powered School Buses, Citing High Demand
The $965 million in funding helps schools replace existing diesel buses with zero- and low-emissions alternatives.
2 min read
A row of flat-front yellow school buses with green bumpers are parked in front of white electric charging units.
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet sits parked in front of charging stations.
Business Wire via AP
Education Funding Districts Steer Federal Teacher-Quality Funding Into Recruitment, Retention
Efforts to recruit teachers and create "grow your own" programs are in; class-size reduction and teacher evaluation are out.
5 min read
Blurred view of the back of students in a classroom with their hands raised answering to a female teacher
E+/Getty