blogenlust
9.07.2004

US School Budget Woes Trim Teacher Ranks


If you saw, heard, or read the President's speech at the RNC ((full text here), you will remember this:
"I believe every child can learn and every school must teach - so we passed the most important federal education reform in history. Because we acted, children are making sustained progress in reading and math, America's schools are getting better, and nothing will hold us back."
Unfortunately, like many other claims in the speech, the opposite is actually true. Take, for example, this article from Reuters, "U.S. School Budget Woes Trim Teacher Ranks":
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Many U.S. public school districts are starting a new school year with fewer teachers as less state funding and other factors leave them with gaping budget holes and nothing else left to cut but instructors, school and teachers union officials say. Some states, still struggling to leave the economic slowdown behind them, have reduced funding to schools or shaved promised funding increases because of their own budget troubles, the officials said. Schools also blame the teacher layoffs on inadequately funded federal educational mandates, soaring health care and utility costs, competing charter schools and reluctance by voters to boost local funding. Fewer teachers could boost class sizes and eliminate programs not considered to be core subjects for students like art and music, education advocates said. The National Education Association has seen tens of thousands of teacher layoffs with some due to state budget cuts dating back to last year, according to Daniel Kaufman, a spokesman for the union, which represents more than 2.7 million primary and secondary school teachers. "The last two years have been a very difficult time for public schools," he said. "Many tried to avoid cutting teachers and cut in other areas." The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 is another problem, Kaufman said, contending the program was inadequately funded and hurting school finances. "They are required to do more without the funding they need from the federal government," he said. The federal law requires annual student testing, training and hiring of qualified teachers and school accountability measures that allow students in failing schools to move to better schools. In Ohio alone, the shortfall for implementing the federal program has been pegged at $1.5 billion a year.
At issue here is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Bush often repeats this as something notable he has done for education reform. However, talk to anyone involved in education, and they will tell you that the program sounds great, but it is a pie in the sky until we budget enough money to fund the programs that the Act initiated. We haven't budgeted the requisite money because, frankly, that money isn't there. Why? Because this President has institutionalized a Pavlovian response of "blah!" to anything that requires taxes. In in some cases this might be good, but when vital programs like education are not being adequately funded, it is necessary to fund them with more tax revenue. In these cases, people have to know the truth. Either they cut their taxes, and have worse schools, or they raise taxes a little (to pre-Bush levels), and have adequate funding for school. Kerry and Edwards have made funding education an important part of their education proposals. They will not produce the funds, as the Republicans claim, by raising taxes on everyone. They have been clear on this from the beginning, they will keep the tax cuts for the middle class, but repeal the tax cuts on individuals and families that make more than $200,000/year. It may not be perfect, but it is at least realistic.