The budget crisis confronting states is severe and will persist even as the economy rebounds. Most states have substantial shortfalls projected not just this year, but into the future, unless governors and legislators make fundamental changes to the budget. Public education, as the single largest category of all state and local government expenditures, has to be on the table for reductions. The good news is this process offers a great opportunity to consider meaningful education reforms that allow states to do more with less.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states are in the red for about $130 billion, or 20 percent of budgets in 46 states, for 2011 and 2012. State revenues shrank significantly during the recession and federal stimulus money that propped up state budgets is now drying up as well. States cannot responsibly put off making tough decisions about how to shrink government and bring their budgets back into balance.
Not all budget cuts have to be bad news though. The need to reduce spending on public education should stimulate a serious discussion of what works and what doesn't in American education.
A review of the statistics shows that despite spending on public education growing steadily over the past century, America’s primary and secondary education achievements are mediocre. According to White House data, state-level spending on primary and secondary education totaled $235 billion in 2009/2010, while the latest PISA scores place the U.S. among average achievers. This international education survey, which assesses the knowledge and problem-solving abilities of 15-year-olds, shows that the U.S. is lagging far behind several Asian and European countries, all of which, besides Luxembourg, spend less on average per student on education.
The good news is that there are proven ways to reform education which can ease budget pressures while simultaneously raising student achievement.