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Cuts Have Been Disasters for Public Ed

Conservatives hail cuts as "an opportunity"

Huffington's Joy Resmovitz reports that a UFT survey of 900 New York City schools finds that three quarters of elementary schools, 61 percent of middle schools and 59 percent of high schools had increased class sizes.  

"What we know is what we feared was happening," [UFT Pres. Mike] Mulgrew says. "Now, all 1 million of our students are ... having their education negatively affected by what has happened between the federal, state and city budgets." In addition to budget cuts, all city agencies were recently warned that they would have to make a total of $2 billion cuts in aggregate for the next year. --Huffington Post

The problem is that our political leaders, particularly our secretary of education, don't believe that exploding class sizes are a problem. Get rid of him, President Obama.

Even worse, Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and Florida for example, are pushing for even deeper cuts and the privatization of public schools. Chester Finn and his cabal of right-wing think-tankers over at the Fordham Institute  are celebrating the massive cuts.

“If states look at this as a way to really look at how education is structured, it can be seen as an opportunity,” said Chris Tessone, director of finance at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s a chance to be innovative, to rethink their staffing model. We see this new normal as an opportunity.” -- Fiscal Times

The Daily News reports that almost half of the city's middle schools bought fewer textbooks. Over a third of high schools cut advanced placement classes, electives and gym.  

“We’re suffering from these budget cuts,” said Christine Wong, a special education teacher at Public School 1 in Chinatown. She said her classes have on average jumped from 17 to 25 students this year. If these cuts continue, it will be devastating,” she said. Wong said her classes suffer from a lack of basic supplies, including copy paper, workbooks and pens.

Over at Bridging Differences, Diane Ravitch describes a district (San Diego) which has been  recovering from years of top-down control by corporate reformers.

The district is now led by a dynamic school board chairman, Richard Barrera, and a low-key superintendent, Bill Kowba. Barrera has a background as a community organizer in the labor movement, and Kowba is a retired rear admiral with 30 years in the Navy and administrative experience in the San Diego public schools. Together, they are passionate and effective advocates for the San Diego public schools.

But whatever progress district schools are making is now threatened by budget cuts. 

The state legislature has slashed $15 billion in funding from California's public schools in the past four years. San Diego alone has lost $450 million since 2007-2008 and has had to lay off teachers and other staff, increase class size, and eliminate programs for children. San Diego may be forced to declare bankruptcy, along with many other districts.

The latest NAEP scores are but one indicator that the combination of corporate-style reform and massive budget cuts are failing to improve things and are instead continuing to widen the so-called "achievement gap." WaPo's Valerie Strauss suggests a new T-shirt which would read:  “My nation spent billions on testing and all I got was a 1-point gain.”

Without mentioning the Occupy Wall Street movement, Merrill Goozner, writing at Fiscal Times, believes that a political backlash is building against education spending cuts which could have an impact in 2012.

Nearly all the top ten toss-up states in next year’s presidential election have sharply curtailed their education budgets since the recession began in 2008, a survey by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows. And with federal stimulus money evaporating, a new round of cuts to state and local budgets are in the offing. That could turn education into a major campaign issue next year, or at least one that roils the local waters where presidential politics will play out.

It's again worth mentioning one more time that after 10 years, we are continuing to spend upwards of $2 billion a week fighting a murderous, senseless, and unwinnable Afghan war. Can we do this and still maintain a public education system in this country? Uh uh.

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Mike Klonsky

Mike Klonsky is an educator, writer, school reform activist, and director of the Small Schools Workshop ( ...