School districts haven’t quite reached the “funding cliff” yet, but they can see it from here.
The funding cliff is the steep drop in revenue that states and school districts expect to face when funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—the federal “stimulus package”—expires at the end of September. School Districts’ Perspectives on the Economic Stimulus Package, a new report from the Center on Education Policy shows just how steep the plunge will be: 75 percent of districts expect to cut teachers’ jobs in the 2010-11 school year.
The report, based on a survey of district leaders, found that the stimulus did what it was expected to do. Less than half of districts reduced teaching jobs last year, because federal funds were able to make up some, though not all, of the shortfalls in state revenues. But the vast majority of districts have already spent their ARRA funds, and cuts in state funds are expected to continue.
What can districts do? It is clear that business as usual is not an option. There other possibilities, though. As a recent Alliance report notes, technology offers one solution. Through online learning, states and districts can expand learning opportunities in less costly ways. Online learning can also help alleviate the anticipated retirement wave among teachers, and help raise the level of student achievement and attainment to reach President Obama’s goal of making the U.S. first in the world in college graduation rates by 2020.
Rural districts, which have long faced limits in funding and the availability of highly qualified teachers, can show the way. In Humboldt, Iowa, for example, the local high school is able to offer—through online learning—a wide range of coursework that might not be possible if the school had to find capable teachers to teach the classes. But working in partnership with the University of Iowa and other state colleges, the school can bring in experts and offer students college-level classes—such as Advanced Placement History and Calculus II. A few members of the Alliance staff, as well as a small film crew, recently visited Humboldt High School to see these initiatives in action. To see video from this trip, click the image below.
The funding cliff will be painful for many school districts. But it also provides an opportunity to think about new ways of doing business to produce even better results for all students.