Cutbacks threaten public education across U.S.
Published Dec 22, 2008 7:57 PM
Even while trillions of dollars were being poured into the Pentagon budget,
education in the United States was slipping behind the rest of the world.
According to the National Governors Association Web site, in just 11
years—from 1995 to 2006—the percentage of college-age people who
obtained a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. dropped from first place in the
world to 14th. By 2006, the U.S. had the highest college dropout rate of 19
industrialized countries. And eighth graders here have been losing ground in
mathematics and science.
Students at Portola Middle School join the protest outside Dec. 10 West Contra
Costa Unified School District Board meeting in Richmond, Calif., to demand that
their school stay open.
WW photo: Judy Greenspan
Nevertheless, huge cutbacks in school funding are now being announced at every
level of public education across the U.S. Schools get most of their funds from
state and local governments. About 21 percent of state budgets are spent on
In early November the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that,
because of budget shortfalls due to the declining economy, at least 16 states
were proposing to cut funding for kindergarten through 12th grade as well as
early education. On the level of higher education, at least 21 states had
already implemented cuts to public colleges and universities. The cuts had
resulted in layoffs of faculty and staff and, in more than half these states,
tuition hikes of 5 to 15 percent.
And the cuts keep growing as more jobs are lost, the economy declines, and the
federal government uses public money to bail out the banks.
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling for education cutbacks of
$2.5 billion in K-12 schools. The California state universities plan to cut
admissions—though figures show applications to the Cal State University
system are up 21 percent as fewer people can afford private universities.
CSU tuition has risen in six of the last seven years. California community
colleges may lose up to 260,000 students due to forced budget cutbacks.
In Connecticut, Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan has warned that budget
shortfalls in that state would result in cutting education aid to
municipalities by 6 to 12 percent. (Hartford Courant, Dec. 2)
Hard-hit by the crisis in the auto industry, Detroit is contemplating the
closure of 63 schools by 2013. At two area high schools there is now a lack of
heat and lights in the classrooms and a shortage of teachers. (Michigan
Messenger, Dec. 15)
Lights are out in the hallways in the Las Cruces public schools in New Mexico.
There is no money for substitute teachers so teachers are advised “not to
be absent.” (Las Cruces Sun News, Dec. 14)
New York Gov. David Paterson released his 2010 budget on the
morning of Dec. 16. That afternoon, 500 City University of New York faculty
members, staff, students and their supporters protested outside his New York
City office. The vast majority of CUNY students are the sons, daughters or
members of New York City’s working class, and raising tuition by hundreds
of dollars will make getting an education much harder. Barbara Bowen, president
of CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, which called the protest, pointed
out that an alternative to raising tuition would be raising the tax rate the
rich currently pay in New York.
The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care provides money for
early education and after-school programs for 31,000 children from low-income
families. Another 18,000 children are on a waiting list. But as the number of
homeless families skyrockets due to both layoffs and foreclosures, the state on
Nov. 3 implemented a “voucher freeze” that would cut off access to
child care for homeless families. (Boston Herald, Dec. 14)
In the small Wisconsin city of Rhinelander, 50 percent of students are poor
enough to qualify for the school lunch program. But there’s not enough
money, so, to make up the shortfall from the state, the school board wants to
reduce graduation requirements, thereby reducing the quality of education.
In South Carolina, at a time when the state’s student population is
increasing, a growing number of teachers are retiring and the rate of teacher
turnover remains high, the state government has decided to shut down the
state’s major teacher training program. (The State, Dec. 15)
In Vermont the legislature is threatening a rise in state college tuition that
would come to nearly 20 percent at some institutions. While enrollment has
increased 42 percent in the last eight years, full-time faculty has increased
just 11 percent. The Green Mountain State expects a 13-percent drop in the
state appropriation for education. Families may have to borrow more or not send
their children to college at all. (Burlington Free Press, Dec. 12)
In New York, Gov. David Paterson has had to delay proposed cuts to education
until next September. However his proposed 2009-2010 spending plan would reduce
school budgets by more than $2.5 billion, or more than 12 percent.
The governor’s budget proposal would raise undergraduate tuition at the
State University of New York and the City University of New York. The governor
would also reduce funding to SUNY training hospitals by $24 million.
The New York State Legislature is contemplating a freeze on universal
pre-kindergarten funding through 2011 and a cut in full-day kindergarten and
preschool funding. (Internal document from New York State United Teachers, Dec.
Students, parents say:
‘Fight for us!’
While many people are still waking up to the juggernaut of budget cuts coming
at them, the fightback has already begun in some areas.
Hundreds of CUNY students and teachers responded to attacks on their city
university system with a rally in front of the governor’s New York City
office on Dec. 16.
In Richmond, Calif., a largely African-American, Latin@ and immigrant school
district, the threatened closing of several elementary schools and two high
schools led to a mass turnout of students, parents and teachers of the West
Contra Costa Unified School District at a Dec. 10 school board meeting.
Richmond faces declining enrollments because evictions and foreclosures have
forced people to leave the district.
When the school board announced cuts to make up for what it called a budget
shortfall, state budget cuts and “under-enrollment,” more than 500
parents, teachers, community activists and children tried to get into the
meeting room chanting, “Save our schools!” “Save our
community!” and “We want justice!” They appealed to the board
to “Fight for us!”
Pixie Hayward Schickele, teachers’ union president from United Teachers
of Richmond, urged the board to “Stand in solidarity with all of us:
teachers, parents, students, all the people who work in our schools and who
keep our schools safe. We need to let Sacramento [the state capital] know that
we have had enough!”
A youth from Pinole Valley High said: “If you close our school, then we
have no future. Keep all our schools open.” She was supported by William
Haines, the sophomore class president from Kennedy High School. “The
people have spoken. You must find a way to keep the schools open!”
Judy Greenspan, a nontenured teacher, challenged the board: “You can sit
by and close the school or you can join the community to fight, go to
Sacramento. Because if the bankers got all the money, auto companies got the
money, then the people deserve it too.”
Many called on fellow community residents to do what the people did at Republic
Windows and Doors in Chicago and sit in for their schools, their community and
The struggle for the right to adequate public education is just beginning.
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