On the chopping block: District reforms

Many school districts have now hit the so-called “funding cliff”—and it’s rapidly approaching for many others. Money from 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) helped many school districts counteract budget cuts, enabling them to hold on to jobs and buy supplies and equipment. But that money is running out—or already gone—which leaves districts in perilous positions.

A survey released earlier this summer, by the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., found that 70 percent of school districts experienced funding cuts for the 2010-2011 school year, and 84 percent anticipated them in the coming year.

This could mean bad news for education reformers and imperil the reforms spreading across the country. Forty-nine percent of school districts with funding decreases indicated they’d have to slow progress on planned reforms, with an additional 17 percent postponing or stopping reforms all together. Only 16 percent of the districts facing cuts anticipate not having to change their reform plans for financial reasons.

The survey found that many districts staring down funding shortfalls had yet to decide what to do about reforms in the 2011-2012 school year, but just 6 percent predicted they’d be able to carry reforms out with little or no impact from budget cuts.

Of course, everything from teaching positions and professional development to facilities funding will be on the chopping block as school districts grapple with the end of the stimulus money—just as many people predicted back in 2009 when they pointed out that the funds weren’t a long-term solution.

But this issue is worth keeping an eye on: with less and less public money to devote to it, what’s next for the country’s education reform?