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Education today/Steve Patchin

Funding K-12 education is both a priority and a puzzle

December 6, 2011
The Daily Mining Gazette

The congressional supercommittee was created to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. Its failure to find a solution could have a negative impact on public education. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the failure of this committee to act will activate a series of automatic budget cuts to educational funding ranging from 7.8 percent in 2013 to 5.5 percent in 2021.

The National Education Association tabulated that these cuts in 2013 spending would equate to: $1.1 billion from Title 1 funding which provides additional aid for disadvantaged students, $896 million from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act impacting over 500,000 students, and $590 million being cut from the Head Start program which services more than 75,000 young children.

When the state of California created their annual budget for 2011-12, they wrote into the budget that if revenue did not meet projections at the mid-fiscal year point, automatic cuts would be activated to react immediately to lack of funds. At current projections, that would mean more than $2 billion in cuts would have to be made immediately in January 2012. The resulting impact for the second half of this school year is that K-12 public school districts would lose $1.1 billion in classroom supporting funds and $248 million in school bus funding. Any public school official will tell you that mid-year school cuts are extremely difficult and have a devastating impact on the classroom operations.

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas is getting ready to roll out a new education plan that in his words will provide "increased local control, transparency, accountability, breaks the cycle of litigation and focuses more resources in the classroom." His plan calls for a series of measures including: setting new per pupil baseline funding for state aid, creating new block grants for innovative districts, allowing counties to vote on creating their own special sales taxes devoted to funding education in that community and the state would remove the limits placed on maximum allowable property taxes, allowing communities to increase these to fund school operations.

Many schools are looking to create revenue by exchanging naming rights for donations. At North Hagarstown High School in Maryland, Mike Callas became immortalized by contributing $500,000 to help construct a new sports stadium, thus having it named after him. Naming rights in exchange for financial support has long been a practice of professional sports teams and institutions of higher education. Naming rights could be for as little as a scoreboard to as large as the whole school.

A recent poll conducted in Pennsylvania found residents putting funding of education near the top of their priority list with only creating more jobs being of more importance to them. In California, 64 percent of those polled stated they were willing to pay more in taxes to support their schools after three years of devastating cuts to educational budgets, with more looming.

As we enter a pivotal election year, how to support K-12 education and higher education will be front and center in the political debate. How each of us casts our vote will help us define the direction we take to solve this dilemma. Be sure of one point of fact, gridlock is not the answer.

Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.



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