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Poor schools bearing brunt of budget cuts

THe Educated Guess - January 21, 2010

By John Fensterwald on January 21st, 2010

No school has escaped damage from the substantial cuts in state education spending during the past two years. But children needing the most help, in low-income neighborhoods wracked by the recession, have been disproportionately hurt.

They’re the ones whose teachers were laid off in greater numbers.

Their summer schools were most likely eliminated.

Their parents couldn’t afford to raise the money privately to keep music and arts classes alive.

Those were some of the findings of  “Educational Opportunities in Hard Times: The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Public Schools and Working Families,” a study released today by an institute at UCLA.

It can take a few years for state data to catch up to realities in the classroom. So last summer, surveyors for the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access interviewed 87 principals from across the state on  how budget cuts had affected them. While not exhaustive, the report is instructive.

IDEA found that cuts compounded stresses in California schools struggling with the least number of counselors and librarians and the largest student-teacher ratio in the nation. Two-thirds reported larger class sizes; nearly half reported cuts or the elimination of after-school programs. Half reported that students psychological or health needs had increased as a result of the recession.

But low-income schools bore the bigger burden.

    * Layoffs were four times as likely in poor schools as wealth schools;

    * Low-income schools were three times more likely to eliminate summer school;

    * Their parents raised on average one-eighth as much in private donations as parents in wealthier neighborhoods  ($21,000 vs. $167,000).

And the principals themselves spending more time dealing with stresses on children in families mundane matters, like purchasing orders, that should be spent on improving student achievement. With most teacher training opportunities cut as well, some districts next year face the choice of further layoffs or dropping five days from the school year. At some point soon, how can student test scores not decline and years of slow progress not reverse?

As for the future, principals urged more investment in programs to improve quality teaching and staff improvement, as well as new partnerships with community organizations  to help children with their psychological and health needs. And they recommended a new system for funding schools at least on a par with other states – an issue that’s receiving no attention in Sacramento.


By John Fensterwald on January 21st, 2010

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