New survey shows school budgets take another hit

A national survey of 859 school administrators from 48 states, conducted in February and March 2009 by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), reports that school budgets for 2009-10 have taken a hit due to the economic downturn despite stimulus funding for education. The survey, titled “Looking Back, Looking Forward: How the Economic Downturn Continues to Impact School Districts,” shows that although an estimated $100 billion in education funding has been included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the impact of the recession has worsened over the past 6 months, with 75% of administrators who participated in the survey describing their districts as “inadequately funded.” This percentage reflects an 8 point increase from a study conducted in October 2008, the “AASA Study of the Impact of the Economic Downturn.” In both studies, the effects of the downturn spanned districts regardless of the district’s size, type and geographic area. The latest study asked what actions districts have taken to respond to the downturn for 2009-10 compared to last year, noting the distinction that budgets for 2008-09 were passed before the current economic downturn. A few statistics from the study results, reflecting changes from 2008-09 to 2009-10 are as follows:

-Districts increasing class size more than tripled from 13% in 2008-09 to 44%.
-Districts laying off personnel quadrupled from 11% to 44%.
-Districts cutting academic programs (i.e. Saturday classes) went from 7% to 22%.
-Districts cutting extracurricular activities increased from 10% to 28%.
-Districts deferring maintenance increased from 21% to 33%.

The survey also asked administrators to identify and rank eligible uses for the stimulus funds they would be receiving. Staff retention is currently under review, and the top 5 areas of priority were as follows:

-Classroom technology: 57%
-School modernization and repair: 54%
-Safety/security measures: 40%
-Connectivity: 39%
-Professional development: 37%

Executive director of AASA Dan Domenech explains that the stimulus funds “could help districts retain and acquire essential personnel, services and equipment,” but adds that many of these expenditures might merely represent “the return of resources and capacities the schools had cut in the early stages of the recession.”