Education budget cuts have become a national crisis. The immediate results of these cuts are seen in tuition hikes and teacher lay-offs. However, the long-term effects are even more troubling.
Lack of funding has handicapped educators at all levels, as early as pre-school. The Head Start program, which provides services to poverty-stricken children, has already suffered. Research from the National Education Association shows that students enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs like Head Start perform better in school and are more likely to attend college. Additionally, Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has found that each dollar invested in the Head Start program has a return of $7 to $9 as the enrolled students graduate from school and enter the workforce. Yet, the NEA reports that only 30 percent of eligible children are able to participate in the program due to insufficient funding. Despite the demonstrated success of the program, Head Start is on the chopping block again. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed cutting 200,000 spots from the program to provide additional funds for defense spending.
Decreases in education funding impact college students, as well. Tuition at all California state universities and community colleges has been raised, but the increased fees do not offset the shortages caused by additional funding cuts. Some schools have had to find alternate money saving measures. Valley College, for example, has had to cancel most of its summer classes. And, CSU recently eliminated grants for 20,000 graduate students, encouraging them to take out interest-heavy loans in order to pay their tuition.
Funding cuts also hinder student performance. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study shows a direct correlation between the amount spent per student and test scores. Students nationwide were tested in math and reading comprehension in fourth grade, and again in eighth grade. On average, state test scores increased by one percent for each additional thousand dollars spent per student.
Interestingly, there was little correlation between test scores and teacher salaries. Schools that hire additional teachers, enabling each student to receive more personal attention, scored better on tests than those that simply raised salaries for their existing teachers.
Instead of hiring teachers, however, many school districts are laying teachers off as a way to save money. Many California teachers received “March 15” letters, indicating that they would not be guaranteed a job for the next school year. In the Los Angeles Unified School District alone, more than 11,700 letters were issued. While some of these teachers will be fortunate enough to still be employed in the fall, many will not. Statewide, more than 32,000 teachers have been laid off since 2007, according to a report from the state legislative analyst’s office.
Despite the obvious damage done by reducing education funding, the cuts continue. It is clear that there is a budget crisis, and it is just as clear that this is directly impacting students. As long as education is deprived of the funds it needs, students will suffer.