Hard times are reaching into the American classroom.
Just when politicians are calling for a revival in American
education, the recession is leaving principals and teachers across
the country with less money for more students.
The toll is uneven, and not all the cuts are dire. But reports
are somber across the economic spectrum. Schools in the hardest-hit
areas have no art, no music, no librarians and no counselors.
Teachers comb rummage sales and attics for supplies. School
districts stop running buses and hold Bingo nights to pay for
"A year ago we received the nation's education goals and I was
told to post them on my wall," said Jane Gaskell, principal of
Pembroke Hill Elementary School in Pembroke, N.H., referring to the
six ambitious education goals President Bush has said he wants
achieved by the year 2000.
"We're not even getting close. I read my education journals and
hear about these innovative programs and I laugh and say, `The
band's playing on.' "
There are no up-to-date national figures on public school
spending cuts, but interviews with experts on school finance,
national education groups and principals of 27 schools in 13 states
suggest that this year is bad and next year will be worse.
The latest estimates available for spending on elementary and
secondary education from the National Center on Education
Statistics project a 5.8 percent increase by federal, state and
local governments for the school year that began this fall.
But the notion of an increase may be misleading because these
estimates were made as the recession was just unfolding. In many
cases, rising school enrollments, local reluctance to raise taxes
and state fiscal problems have meant that schools actually have
less money than before.
So far this year, 30 states have reported budget deficits or
revenue shortfalls, according to Anthony Hutchison, a fiscal
analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. States
and towns pay 94 percent of all education costs.
Although surveys show that most state legislatures had planned
to increase spending on education this school year, Hutchison said
he expected the recession would pare those increases or force
actual cuts in many cases before the end of this year.
Rising school enrollments have meant that a small increase can
actually be a cut. Even more than states, cities and towns appear
to be cutting education spending as voters worried about their own
futures reject tax increases.
The worst-off schools are in the Northeast and California,
according to Steven D. Gold, director for the Center for the Study
of the States at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany,
In a survey conducted this December by the National Association
of Elementary School Principals, 74 percent of the 650 principals
who responded reported budget cuts. Forty percent of the principals
said teachers had been let go.
Nearly half the principals cut back music, art, and programs
for gifted children; 80 percent have eliminated field trips.
Critics have long contended that money's role in education is
It is clear that some school bureaucracies absorb too much
money before it reaches the classroom; the National Center for
Education Statistics has found that nearly 40 percent of money for
education does not go directly to the classroom but is spent on
administration, guidance counselors, transportation and other
But it is equally clear that in many places, schools are
hobbled. In rural Hancock County in eastern Tennessee, schools
depend on fund raisers to buy all school supplies.
In Belington, W. Va., teachers run booths at the local fair to
raise money so they can attend workshops. In Los Angeles, the
Aragon Avenue School had to cut playground hours in a neighborhood
where children have nowhere else to play. …