What has been the impact on K–12 schools of budget cuts in the past few years?
School districts throughout California are responding to state funding cuts by laying off teachers, increasing class sizes, consolidating schools and programs, and shortening the school year. For 110 districts even these methods have not been enough, and they risk bankruptcy and state takeover.
“Nearly 2 million students—roughly 30% of pupils in California—now attend school in a district facing serious financial jeopardy,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a March 21 press release.
District responses to budget cuts depend on local circumstances
Meanwhile, other districts have weathered the cuts by restructuring departments, increasing efficiencies, and drawing on reserves. Often these districts have one or more of the following conditions that have helped them make ends meet:
- Increasing enrollment. When districts are growing, they receive more state funds. When enrollment is falling, the state pays districts less but fixed costs—such as heating and maintenance—do not go down. In California, about two-thirds of the counties are experiencing decreasing enrollment.
- Outside support, such as from a city, foundations, high local property taxes ( districts), or parents. For example, parents raised 10% of one district’s general fund.
- Deep reserves that the district can use.
- Negotiated pay decreases or pay freezes for staff.
- Investments in solar energy that have started to pay off in reduced energy costs.
- Continuous cutting. Some districts have been making substantial reductions during the past few years so they will not need to make extreme cuts all at once.
- Delaying the use of some federal stimulus funds until the September 2011 deadline, thus having stimulus funding for 2011–12.
If state cuts continue, districts will need to implement more drastic measures
Districts are largely dependent on state funding, but recently federal stimulus funding has played a major role in giving schools a soft landing during two years of declining and delayed state revenues. With stimulus funding gone after September 2011, the vast majority of districts will have to take more drastic measures if state cutbacks continue.
For example, the superintendent of one district that has so far avoided layoffs said in his report to the community that class sizes in the early grades will have to grow from 24 to 32 children if state cutbacks continue. Other districts that have already raised class sizes could see even larger student-teacher ratios.
Concern about what will happen to schools if the state enacts more education cuts has mobilized stakeholders. On March 28, a group of superintendents went to Sacramento to present their case to the Legislature.
Without additional state revenues, “we will spend the '11–'12 school year decimating, devastating, and tearing down programs for students across this entire state,” said Mike Hanson, superintendent of Fresno Unified School District, as reported by The Sacramento Bee.
For more information
The California Department of Education's School Financial Emergency Page includes a tally of the teachers that have received layoff notices and a county-by-county roundup of layoff notices and other cuts made by the districts in response to the funding cuts. See the CDE's Financial Emergency page.
For recent news articles about district budget cuts, see our District Budget Cuts page in the News & Resources Section.
For the Legislative Analyst Office’s two-year survey of school district finances, see Update on School District Finance in California (PDF).