HOUSTON, Sept. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Texas' 82nd Legislature cut spending on public education in the 2010-2011 school year by $5.4 billion, including $4 billion from the Foundation School Program. Although the dollar expenditure of the cuts has been widely discussed, comprehensive information on how the cuts affected school districts and the impact these cuts had on Texas students is lacking.
From January to September 2012, CHILDREN AT RISK conducted a mixed methods study that included a survey with a random sample of school districts. The objective was to provide an assessment of the impact of state budget cuts on Texas schools and students. Texas Public Education Cuts: Impact Assessment, funded by the KDK-Harman Foundation, utilized a mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods to capture the variation and scope of the cuts through uniform evaluation and measurement across districts. Research priority areas included the impact of state budget cuts on the average class size, pre-k and staffing.
Initial findings provide valuable data that offers insight into how school districts were forced to "make do" with the loss of state funding. Key trends and findings include the following:
- Across the board, there was great diversity in the ways school districts handled budget cuts. Many districts anticipated the cuts and worked to "soften the blow" with cutbacks over the biennium, rather than making drastic one-time cuts.
- Many districts wanted to avoid teacher layoffs at all costs. However, payroll expenses make up the bulk (80%) of school district spending. Consequently, most districts were unable to avoid a reduction in teaching staff.
- The most commonly utilized cost containment strategies were deferring maintenance, technology upgrades, and administrative staff increases. This raises the concern that districts are "kicking the can down the road," and the costs will be greater at a later date.
- Strong leadership prevailed at the district level through responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds and smart financial management. Leaders largely worked within existing service delivery frameworks, and public education in Texas did not see significant structural changes.
- The budget cuts had a clear impact on the average class size. With more children in the classroom, researchers worry that student learning will be negatively impacted. This is especially true for at-risk and special needs students who will have fewer opportunities for individualized and one-on-one instruction.
- Despite extensive research demonstrating the importance of early education, 15% of survey respondents reported cuts to pre-k programs.
- The budget cuts prompted many districts to examine their operations, looking for ways to be more efficient. Increasingly, districts are adopting successful practices from the private sector, which has enabled them to run leaner operations. Commonly-cited tactics included the use of cost containment strategies, increased collaboration, diversified revenue streams, low administrative overhead, and achieving economies of scale, where possible.
Texas school districts have met the challenge of lost funding with a dedication to protect student learning. Obviously, the cuts have resulted in a loss of resources, but they've also challenged the capacity of many districts to fully meet their educational mandates.
"The research we've conducted in the last nine months clearly shows that state budget cuts have hampered school districts' ability to deliver a high quality education," said Dr. Bob Sanborn, president & CEO of CHILDREN AT RISK. "It is concerning that the evidence based educational programs are suffering, including pre-k and small class size initiatives, programs that clearly benefit high poverty and minority students across all grade levels."
"We are proud to support this research," said Janet Harman, founder and president of the KDK-Harman Foundation. "We are committed to informing our state legislators, school boards, school administrators, and parents about the impact of the budget cuts to public education, as well as to share innovations and efficiencies that have occurred over the last two years."
About CHILDREN AT RISK
CHILDREN AT RISK is a non-profit organization leading the way to improving the quality of life for Texas' children through research, collaboration, and advocacy. CHILDREN AT RISK educates the community and public officials based on its groundbreaking research which tracks children's health, safety, education, and economic conditions. By understanding children's needs and speaking out on their behalf, CHILDREN AT RISK drives change. Visit us at www.childrenatrisk.org, or on Facebook and Twitter to learn more.
Media Contact: Rashena Lindsay Flagg, 713.301.4577
SOURCE CHILDREN AT RISK