The Pennsylvania Association of School Business and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators recent survey of schools in the state provides a snapshot of how schools are reacting to budget cuts across the country.
The results: 70 percent stated they would be increasing class sizes, 44 percent stated they would reduce course electives being offered and 35 percent would reduce the tutoring programs. On average, respondents stated their district would each need to draw $500,000 from their reserve funds to balance the 2011-12 budgets. School districts are employing some very creative techniques to address this shortfall through creating revenue and curbing expenses.
Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy is teaming up with Hollywood philanthropist Megan Chermin to raise $200 million for the district over the next five years. This unlikely paring is in response to the fact that most donors will not give to aid the school district because they are concerned how the money will be spent in the second-largest school district in the United States.
Arizona is a state that hosts the "school of choice" policy for students, allowing parents to choose which school to send their kids, with that school receiving funding to educate that child. With many students choosing to attend private schools, public schools are making changes to attract students back, including creating magnet schools.
These themed schools include: gifted academies created to challenge academically talented students through rigorous and demanding courses, Bioscience High School with the obvious curriculum focus, the Renaissance Gifted and Music Academy with a strong focus on courses in the Arts, and International Baccalaureate schools following the global education focused IB program. Another magnet school, University High School, accelerates the courses so students have the ability to earn a diploma by 10th grade and an associate's degree by 12th grade.
Indiana Public Schools are also struggling against a newly enacted voucher program, similar to the school of choice just described. Early results have found that 70 percent of students have chosen to use these vouchers to attend Catholic schools instead of public. Ohio has a similar program that allows students in underperforming schools to use these vouchers to attend the school of their choice, of which 70 percent are choosing to attend Catholic schools. Lawsuits have been raised challenging if these public funds being used for religious based school education is a violation of the separation of church and state.
Minnesota recently took a different approach by encouraging students to graduate from high school early using incentives. If a student graduates one semester early, they receive $2,500 toward college tuition, a year early and they receive $5,000. Graduating students early will lower the states' cost to keep these students in school until the traditional graduation date.
Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, touting 145,000 students and 22,000 employees, has sought advice from corporations such as Marriott International, Lockheed Martin and the accounting firm of KPMG to search for cost savings in bus routes, food service and more streamlined/productive hiring practices. Schools, like businesses, face a similar situation. They must combine efforts to increase revenue by attracting students with decreasing expenses while still improving the academic success of the students they produce - a challenging situation for organizations whom have been given the task of creating our economic and social leaders of tomorrow.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.