The Coming Recession Threatens Severe Cuts to Public Schools

An economic recession is inevitable and public schools are likely to suffer. Across many states, the public schools have finally recovered from deep cuts to state funding during the 2008 recession; other states have not yet caught up. Now we are headed into another recession.

The Learning Policy Institute’s Michael Griffith describes the recession we can expect in the coming year and explains why school funding is so vulnerable:  “In the past 5 weeks alone, since sates began to issue shelter-in-place orders, virtually all 50 states have significantly reduced economic activity… and almost 22 million Americans—more than one in ten working adults—have applied for unemployment insurance. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that this will be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This downturn will impact state tax revenue and thus result in reduced state PreK-12 education spending.”

How much do public schools depend on state revenue? Griffith reports: “According to the U.S. Census, 47.1% of public PreK-12 education finding comes from state sources. Another 44.9% comes from localities, and typically just 8% comes from the federal government. While localities rely on more stable property taxes, the vast majority of state revenue (just under 90%) comes from two sources—sales and income taxes. Retail sales started to take a hit in February, while state unemployment numbers—which will ultimately affect overall wages and taxes—did not begin to climb until the end of March…. I have spoken to revenue and budget experts from around the country, and none of them currently feels confident in projecting how far state revenues will fall this year and next. Some preliminary estimates from states are showing state revenue drops of between 10% and 20%. These drops are likely to be even larger in 2021-22, when the income tax effects will be felt more fully.”

While the CARES Act provided some relief to states, assistance for state and local governments falls far short. It appears that President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell may be playing politics when it comes to future relief bills by holding back state assistance to put pressure on Democratic governors. How dangerous are these political games right now? The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Robert Greenstein explains: “The White House’s refusal to provide more relief to states—whose revenues are plummeting due to the virus’ effect on economic activity—will almost certainly lead many states to cut education and other critical services, including even health care, and to lay off teachers and other workers as states struggle to balance their budgets both for the fiscal year ending June 30 and the new fiscal year that starts July 1. The approaching state budget cuts (and possibly tax increases in some areas) will cause the U.S. economy to contract further… State budget shortfalls could total more than $500 billion over the next few years, which will dwarf the roughly $65 billion in aid in earlier COVID-19 packages that is readily available to narrow those shortfalls. Without substantially more aid, states—which are required to balance their budgets every year, even in recessions and depressions—will almost certainly lay off teachers and other workers and cut health care, education, and other key services…”

Greenstein reports that states are already experiencing shortfalls in this fiscal year: “Maryland, for example, projects a 15 percent shortfall for this fiscal year. Michigan projects shortfalls of up to 12 percent. And the shortfalls for the new state fiscal year that starts July 1 in most states will likely be much greater and could well be of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression, nearly a century ago.”

In New York City, the schools are under mayoral control, and Chalkbeat reports that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has already proposed a significant reduction in the budget for the city’s enormous school system that enrolls 1.1 million students: “Citing the coronavirus pandemic, officials announced a series of cuts to New York City’s budget on Tuesday (April 7, 2020), including hits to school budgets and some of the mayor’s core education priorities such as expanding free pre-K to 3-year-olds. Some $121 million in education department cuts will go into effect this fiscal year… The biggest single cut to the education department’s budget will take effect next fiscal year: $100 million will come out of the ‘fair student funding’ formula, a city funding stream that directly finances school budgets and is designed to funnel more money to the highest-need schools. That represents a roughly 1.6% reduction to that funding stream.”

And in Ohio, Innovation Ohio’s Steve Dyer spells out the dire fiscal situation of many school districts: “We’re starting to see stories about districts preparing for massive cuts next year. When you add the continuation of the hotly contested school voucher expansion… (school districts) are looking at millions of dollars in budget cuts next school year…. if we don’t have a fourth stimulus (Education groups are seeking $200 billion nationally.), then we could be looking at crippling school cuts that would make the 2011 cuts seem like a little finger splinter.”

The NY Times‘ columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman explains that another generous federal stimulus bill directed toward state governments is not only essential but also precisely what economists prescribe: “Yet, this necessary slump doesn’t have to be accompanied by severe financial hardship…There’s also no reason we should see punishing cuts in essential public services… When I say that we have the resources to avoid severe financial hardship, I’m referring to the federal government, which can borrow vast sums very cheaply. In fact, the interest rate on inflation-protected bonds, which measure real borrowing costs, is minus 0.43 percent. Investors are basically paying the feds to hold their money. So Washington can and should run big budget deficits in this time of need. State and local governments, however, can’t, because almost all of them are required by law to run balanced budgets. Yet these governments, which are on the front line of dealing with the pandemic, are facing a combination of collapsing revenue and soaring expenses.”

New Edition of “Is School Funding Fair?” Shows Which States are Investing in Equity

On Wednesday the Education Law Center and Rutgers Graduate School of Education published the fifth annual Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card.  The report, “evaluates and compares the extent to which state finance systems ensure equality of educational opportunity for all children, regardless of background, family income, place of residence, or school location.”  The report is based on the newest data available—2013. Very recent fiscal developments are not being tracked here.

The report makes several assumptions: “Varying levels of funding are required to provide equal educational opportunities to children with different needs.  The costs of education vary based on geographic location, regional differences in teacher salaries, school district size, population density, and various student characteristics.  State finance systems should provide more funding to districts serving larger shares of students in poverty.  The overall funding level in states is also a significant element in fair school funding.  Without a sufficient base, even a progressively funded system will be unable to provide equitable educational opportunities.”

Bar graphs demonstrate how states rank by how much they invest in education, how they distribute state funding across local districts to accommodate the needs of school districts that serve many children in poverty, and by their investments in K-12 public education relative to their fiscal capacities as measured by their gross state product.  There is a fourth factor called “coverage,” that measures the proportion of students in public and private schools and the median household income of these students.

The report is a state-by-state snapshot and it is comparative.  It does not cost-out needed services and then judge each state’s level of investment next to that ideal level of expenditure. “(B)ecause the evaluations are comparative and not benchmarked to a defined outcome, high grades or rankings are not indicative of having met some obligation or having outperformed expectations.”

The report’s findings?

Funding Level:  Spending $17,331 per pupil, Alaska ranks highest in its educational investment.  (A recent NY Times report on Alaska’s fiscal distress due to the collapse in oil prices will likely reduce Alaska’s expenditure-per-pupil in 2016.) New York ($16,726 per-pupil) and New Jersey ($15,394) are second and third.  Idaho spends the least on public education at $5,746 per-pupil, with the other low-spending states in the bottom ten being Utah, Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, Nevada, and California.  “Relative funding rankings have remained largely consistent over time.  Despite recent fluctuations in the economy and attendant variations in spending, with only a few exceptions the lowest ranking states tend to remain in the bottom, and high spending states tend to remain at the top.”

Funding Distribution:  Seven states are given high marks for distributing additional funding to students in settings of concentrated family poverty—Delaware, Minnesota, Utah, Ohio, New Jersey, South Dakota and Tennessee.  Some states actually have regressive funding systems that send less money to very poor school districts: Nevada, North Dakota, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Vermont, Idaho, Wyoming, Alabama, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

School Funding Effort:  The Education Law Center’s new report references the Center on Budget and Policy Priority’s report about the number of states that continue to spend less on K-12 education than prior to the Great Recession in 2008.  The Education Law Center points out that even several years after the Great Recession, some states continue to reduce their investment in K-12 schools relative to their fiscal capacity to support education.  The five states that made the greatest reduction in their effort to fund education between 2012-2013 are Ohio (- 9%), Arizona (-8%), Michigan (-8%), Louisiana (-7%), and Maine (-7%).

The report’s authors summarize: “Only a handful of states… have generally high funding levels and also provide significantly more funding to districts where student poverty is highest.  Low rankings on school funding fairness correlate to poor state performance on key resource indicators, including less access to early childhood education, non-competitive wages for teachers, and higher teacher-to-pupil ratios.”

Reading, Pennsylvania: A Microcosm of Today’s Savage Inequalities

NEA Today has just published a short, eloquent, and very profound article on an old, old subject.  In 1991, Jonathan Kozol called this problem “savage inequalities.”

The subject of Amanda Litvinof’s piece in NEA Today is Reading, Pennsylvania, once an industrial community an hour and a half west of Philadelphia:  “Reading is one of the nation’s poorest cities. It’s also one of the most poorly funded school districts in America.  Like students in disadvantaged communities across the nation—who are disproportionately students of color—kids in Reading suffer from a school finance policy that does not come close to providing them with education resources on par with those of their wealthier peers.  Tour Reading’s 19 schools and you’ll see mostly aging buildings with broken floor tiles, leaky ceilings, sprouting patches of mold, students crammed into too-small classrooms and feral cats squatting under classroom trailers.  One high school has a room full of broken microscopes, and no money to repair them.  One large-group instruction room is completely off limits after a broken pipe left it spattered with sewage.  The drama teacher now conducts class in the hallway.  But even more detrimental is what you don’t see.  Reading School District lost 200 educators, including 120 education support professionals in 2011-2012 when statewide education funding plummeted by $1.1 billion under then-Gov. Tom Corbett.  Incredibly, the cuts were four times greater in Pennsylvania’s 50 poorest districts ($532 per student) than in the state’s wealthiest districts ($113 per student).  In practical terms, those cuts left Riverside Elementary’s Ms. Sherman with a class of more than 30 kindergartners and no aid.”

Litvinof interviews Sherman: “One of my close friends went to a wealthier district after working in Reading for 10 years.  At the same step on the pay scale she was earning $16,000 more per year and had a kindergarten class of 18 with an aide, while I had a class of 30 kindergartners all on my own.  It’s a big difference.”  Litvinof takes the trouble to be sure there are no misconceptions here about leveling down: “Let’s be clear: The kids in Wyomissing should have smaller class sizes, challenging academics, and extra curriculars like sports, band and orchestra.  They should have access to a nurse and a counselor and all the academic supports they need.  But students in Reading should have those things, too.”

Describing an interview with Bruce Baker, the school finance expert at Rutgers University and manager of the blog School Finance 101, Litvinof writes: “We know the strategies that help close achievement gaps: Lower class sizes. A broad curriculum. Attraction and retention of highly qualified teachers. But these strategies are unobtainable without stable, adequate, and equitable funding.”  According to Baker, “Reading is a classic case of savage inequality.  It’s a school district that is incredibly poor in terms of its own tax base, it has high-needs students, and it exists in a state that appears not to give a [expletive].” “The data show that we’ve never provided sustained, adequate, and equitable funding in any of our disadvantaged communities.”

There is really no disagreement among experts on the subject of the need for adequate and equitably distributed state funding of public schools.  A long shelf of books documents the problem.  What follow are just a handful of examples:

From Jonathan Kozol in Savage Inequalities (1991): “‘In a country where there is no distinction of class,’ Lord Acton wrote of the United States 130 years ago, ‘a child is not born to the station of its parents but with an indefinite claim to all the prizes that can be won by thought and labor.  It is in conformity with the theory of equality… to give as near as possible to every youth an equal state in life.’  ‘Americans,’ he said, ‘are unwilling that any should be deprived in childhood of the means of competition.’ It is hard to read these words today without a sense of irony and sadness.  Denial of ‘the means of competition’ is perhaps the single most consistent outcome of the education offered to poor children in the schools of our large cities….” (p 83)

From the National Research Council in Making Money Matter, edited by Helen Ladd (1999): “That middle-and upper-income households can move out of high-taxation areas makes it possible for them to avoid sharing the burden of financing the local share of education for those left behind.  In particular, as households and firms have moved out of central cities in search of lower land prices in the suburbs or more favorable business conditions in other states or countries, they have often left behind them smaller tax bases and concentrations of economically disadvantaged and difficult-to-educate students.  The result is widening disparities among the capacities of school districts to generate local funds to meet the educational needs of their students…. While assistance from the federal and state governments helps to offset these disparities, large differences remain, both within and across states.” (p 20)

From Peter Schrag in Final Test: The Battle for Adequacy in America’s Schools (2003): Schrag quotes Alondra Jones, a student from San Francisco’s Balboa High School in her deposition filed in California’s Williams case: “It makes you feel less about yourself, you know, like you sitting here in a class where you have to stand up because there’s not enough chairs, and you see rats in the buildings, the bathrooms is nasty…. Like I said, I visited Marin Academy, and these students, if they want to sit on the floor that’s because they choose to.  And that just makes me feel less about myself because it’s like the state don’t care about public schools…. It really makes me feel bad about myself.” (p 21)

From James E. Ryan in Five Miles Away, A World Apart (2010): “(I)t is worth noticing that those who embrace adequacy as a goal have essentially abandoned any attempt to link the financial fates of poor and rich districts.  Adequacy presupposes that some districts will be able to provide an education that is more than adequate.  Thus, instead of seeking to ensure that all districts have access to the same pool of resources, which was the goal of fiscal neutrality, those in favor of adequacy accept the inevitable inequalities that will follow.  Indeed, some seek to make a virtue of necessity by arguing that adequacy is superior to equity precisely because it is less threatening to property-rich districts.  In the words of one commentator, adequacy is less costly ‘for the elites who derive the greatest benefits from the existing inequalities, because adequacy does not threaten their ability to retain a superior position.'” (p. 176)

From Linda Darling-Hammond in The Flat World and Education (2010) : “The onus of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is on individual schools to raise test scores.  However, the law does not address the profound educational inequalities that plague our nation.  Despite a 3 to 1 ratio between high-and low-spending schools in most states, multiplied further by inequalities across states, neither NCLB nor other federal education policies require that states demonstrate progress toward adequate funding or equitable opportunities to learn… To survive and prosper, our society must finally renounce its obstinate commitment to educational inequality and embrace full and ambitious opportunities to learn for all of our children.” (p. 309)

Earlier this summer, as the Education Law Center released its fourth annual report on the challenges to school funding equity across the states, its press release declared: “The picture is bleak: the vast majority of states are not funding public schools adequately or equitably; the fiscal retrenching connected with the Great Recession has not been reversed; and at-risk students are not being provided with the resources they need to succeed.”

Amanda Litvinov succinctly summarizes our long, long problem in her piece on Reading, Pennsylvania: “Most lawmakers agree that low-income students, like all children, deserve a great public school—until its time to pay for it.”

We like to think of this as a thorny fiscal problem, but in reality it is a much deeper matter of public morality.  Here are the words—timely today but written over a quarter of a century ago—by the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the prophetic pastor of New York’s Riverside Church: “We comfort ourselves with the thought that because our intentions are good (nobody gets up in the morning and says, ‘Whom can I oppress today?’), we do not have to examine the consequences of our actions.  As a matter of fact, many of us are even eager to respond to injustice, as long as we can do so without having to confront the causes of it. And there’s the great pitfall of charity. Handouts to needy individuals are genuine, necessary responses to injustice, but they do not necessarily face the reason for the injustice.  And that is why President Reagan and so many business leaders today are promoting charity: it is desperately needed in an economy whose prosperity is based on growing inequality.” (Credo, p. 64)

The Koch Brothers Are Part of What’s the Matter with Kansas

Since when does school funding legislation have to come with a quid pro quo legislative tidbit for the Koch Brothers?

Here is some background for what happened in Kansas last weekend.  The legislature had been warned by the state’s supreme court that the state’s school funding had slipped far from parity.  The Court gave the legislature until July 1 to allocate more state money to the poorest school districts in Kansas.  After all, one of the primary functions of a state school finance formula is to produce at least some movement toward equity—to ensure that funding in property-poor school districts doesn’t fall so far that poor children are denied basic services.

The formulas are rarely generous, which is why Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond pointed out that in 2010, the ratio of spending between property rich and property poor school districts was over 3:1.  Darling-Hammond wondered, “what we might accomplish as a nation if we could finally set aside what appears to be our de facto commitment to inequality, so profoundly at odds with our rhetoric of equity, and put the millions of dollars spent continually arguing and litigating into building a high-quality education system for all children.” (The Flat World and Education, p. 164)

Today in Kansas, they are still arguing and fighting, and it’s not just in Kansas.  In the four years since Darling-Hammond published her book, the rhetoric across our states has retreated from the idea of equity.  Today we talk about school choice (privatization) and we punish teachers, which is what the Kansas legislature just did as a condition for raising the state’s distribution of funding to poor school districts to the bare minimum.

At issue in Gannon v. State of Kansas was a 16.5 percent cut in Kansas education funding since 2008, “accelerated” according to a recent op ed in the NY Times, “by a $1.1 billion tax break, which benefited mostly upper-income Kansans, proposed by Governor Brownback and enacted in 2012.”  Just over a year ago, a trial court found for the parent-plaintiffs, declaring that cuts to school funding reduced per-pupil expenditures far below a level suitable to educate children under the requirements of the state constitution of Kansas.  The case was appealed by the state, and the Kansas Supreme Court released its finding, for the plaintiffs and against the state, on Friday, March 7.

Last weekend the legislature responded to the court.  Brad Cooper reports for the Kansas City Star that late on Sunday night, “The House and Senate passed a bill that spends $126 million to bridge wealth-based disparities in the school funding formula,” and, according to Cooper, “strips teachers of due process rights and promotes school choice.”

Basically the bill eliminates the tenure protections public school teachers in Kansas earn at the end of three years.  In Kansas, what it will mean for teachers to lose job protections is described by John Hanna for the Associated Press:  “Starting in July, teachers who’ve been in classrooms three years or longer but face dismissal would lose the right to have their cases heard and decided by independent hearing officers….”

The new school funding law also promotes privatization by setting up tuition tax-credits.  According to Cooper in the Kansas City Star, “The reforms would foster school choice by allowing corporations to receive tax credits for contributions to scholarship funds so children with special needs or who come from low-income households could attend private school.”  Tuition tax-credits are really just another form of private school vouchers.

There is widespread agreement that the anti-teachers union provision and the tax credits were added to the bill by legislators supported by the Koch Brothers through Americans for Prosperity.  Cooper writes, “Urged on by conservative special interests such as Americans for Prosperity, Republican leaders pressed hard to eliminate due process rights for teachers.”

Jeff Glendening, the director of the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity was quoted—framing the legislation as part of a fight between those who stand for children and those who stand for “adult” interests—by the NY Times : “We appreciate the willingness of the Legislature to place the interests of Kansas children over the welfare of the teachers’ union.”  This kind of rhetoric is widely promoted by far-right groups such as StudentsFirst and Stand for Children. These groups try to imply that teachers, who have committed their lives to nurture children, are somehow a class of people working purely out of self interest.  The rhetoric also fails to acknowledge that public school due process merely grants teachers the right to a hearing. Under the law passed over the weekend, in Kansas teachers can now be fired at will.

Scapegoating school teachers and promoting vouchers are at the core of the far-right attack on public education.  In states like Kansas where austerity budgeting has become the norm, attacks on teachers unions have become a regular part of a national movement to reduce government expenditures and have education on the cheap.  If teachers can be fired at will, it is possible to eliminate the more expensive, experienced teachers, cut costs, and reduce taxes. Tuition tax-credits promote privatization.

Why Is NY Times Worrying about School Funding in Kansas?

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities thirteen states have cut per-student education funding by more than 10 percent since the recession began five years ago.  The top four school finance slashers are Oklahoma, which has cut funding for K-12 public education by 22.7 percent, Alabama by 20.1 percent, Arizona by 17.2 percent, and Kansas by 16.5 percent.

In a 2006 decision, Montoy v. State, the supreme court of Kansas “ordered cost-based, sufficient, and equitable funding,” “based upon actual costs to educate children,” according to the Education Law Center (here, here, and here).  However, the legislature failed to fund the remedy fully, and as the economy of Kansas began to recover from the 2008 recession, Governor Sam Brownback and the legislature passed a five-year $3.7 billion tax cut instead of increasing the amount of money for public education.

In response, in 2010 plaintiffs pushed back, filing Gannon v. State, and leading to a unanimous trial court decision early in January 2013 in support of more funding for K-12 public schools.  The trial court demanded  that the state immediately increase investment in  education by at least $440 million.  The state, of course, appealed , and last week the supreme court in Kansas heard oral arguments.

Because Kansas is so very far in every way from New York, I was stunned to see the New York Times take the unusual step of editorializing in this case: “The court should quickly put priorities in order by affirming a lower-court ruling last January that found the state ‘completely illogical’ in using the new revenues to provide tax cuts while arguing it had inadequate resources for educating schoolchildren.”

Because all the states have different education funding formulas and because it all gets to seeming like an arcane bunch of numbers, I think it is easy to gloss over the school finance inadequacy and inequity in other states where the cuts don’t affect my own children or  neighbors or community.  Problems for those other places can seem pretty far away.  But when there is school finance trouble in my own state, the issues feel more personal than almost anything else. The school funding formula determines whether we have a school nurse, a school librarian, a middle school orchestra, a class in Calculus, Advanced Placement chemistry.  Will the kindergarten class have 21 or 32 children?  Will high school English teachers teach four classes of 25 or five classes of 35, a difference that will likely determine whether the teacher can assign and read enough essays to teach adolescents how to write.  Will I as a parent have to spend months trying to pass a local school levy merely to replace programs eliminated when the state legislature cut the funding?

It should be a cause for concern everywhere in America that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “despite some improvements in overall state revenues, schools in around a third of states are entering the new school year (2013-2014) with less state funding than they had last year.” I am delighted to see the New York Times speaking to disturbing threats across the nation to K-12 public education, threats that derive not only from the lingering impact of the 2008 recession, but also from tax cuts by Tea Party-dominated legislatures and governors and the implications of the federal sequester for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Widespread Financial Crises Strike Poor School Districts

Today federal policy in public education does not support equity and excellence. Federal programs like Race to the Top are pushing competitions with winners and also losers.  The U.S. Department of Education is making econometric evaluation of teachers a requirement for states to receive waivers from onerous requirements of No Child Left Behind.  And to qualify for Race to the Top, states had agree to privatization by removing caps on the authorization of new charter schools.  These federal requirements and programs fail to address the root problems—poverty, inequality, unequal funding, and an achievement gap in place before children enter Kindergarten.

However, certain states and school districts have rushed to make matters worse for their public schools.  According to a newsletter from Education Justice at the Education Law Center, this summer North Carolina “passed a budget that cuts almost $500 million from public schools and shifts taxpayer dollars to religious and private schools through vouchers, while also eliminating teacher job protection, increasing class sizes, and granting tax cuts to the wealthy.”  North Carolina ranks low in per-pupil spending, distributes school funding unfairly, and ranks 48th of all the states in teacher salaries, and in all these areas its legislature has just made matters worse.

In Michigan, while the bankruptcy of Detroit has been making the national news, in a move that is relatively unknown outside the state, on July 22 through a new Public Act 96, the legislature dissolved two school districts, Buena Vista and Inkster, because of financial trouble.  According to the Detroit Free Press, “Statewide, 55 school districts… are operating with a deficit.  Under the law passed earlier this month, financially insolvent school districts that have between 300 and 2,400 students can be dissolved.”   The paper’s editorial board condemned the move: “Michigan has lost sight of the fact that the primary purpose of a public school system is to educate kids… It’s no longer possible to even pretend that the way we fund school dsitricts makes sense… And how will kids in those communities get to the new districts that are expected to take them?  The logistics alone are nightmarish to contemplate.”

In May, Philadelphia passed what was called a doomsday budget, with 3,783 staff laid off including counselors, assistant principals, librarians, nurses, along with elimination of art, music and co-curricular activities.  After protesters staged a hunger strike to protest catastrophic state cuts to schools, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett restored some of the funding, but according to the Philadelphia Daily News, funding for schools in Philadelphia remains unclear just 40 days before school is scheduled to open: “This year, 40 days before the start of school, students face a dramatically altered school system.  Ten percent of the district’s schools were closed.  Nearly 10,000 students will be going to new schools, and few schools will not feel the impact of that change.  Especially since those schools may have fewer personnel to run them… This , of course, is not the first crisis of funding that the school district has faced… thanks to routine cuts from the state. But the magnitude of the funding gap, on top of the realignment of the system, makes this a unique year.”  Daniel Denvir who has extensively covered the Philadelphia crisis reports that Corbett’s rescue plan which depends on a 1 percent jump in the local sales tax, “is nothing less than a permanent increase in the city’s share of the school-funding formula, while the state escapes with no new investment.”

Finally there is Chicago, where the district laid off approximately 3,000 employees, nearly 2,000 of them experienced teachers.  Writer and Chicago teacher Gregory Michie describes cuts that will devastate the very programs that have helped improve achievement in some of Chicago’s schools.  He has been involved in a wave of protests across that city: “What provides a measure of hope, though, in places like Chicago and Philadelphia… is that so many teachers, parents, students, and community activists are refusing to simply accept this misguided direction for our schools.  In increasing numbers, people are speaking up, doing grassroots research, organizing, fighting back.”

Protesters in school districts across the country are beginning publicly to lift up a problem that has been ignored in all the recent buzz around test scores and achievement gaps and whether teachers are at fault and whether charters can make enough difference: state school funding systems that too often do little to help struggling school districts.  The Nation recently covered Moral Monday protests being led in Raleigh by the Rev.William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP.  Barber has folded the issue of educational inequity into protests against a web of punitive policies in a state that, according to The Nation, has “personified the hard-right shift in state capitols across the country…. So far this year, legislation passed or pending… would eliminate the earned-income tax credit for 900,000; decline Medicaid coverage for 500,000; end federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 in a state with the country’s fifth-highest jobless rate; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slash taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent…”  “We believe North Carolina is the crucible,” says Rev. Barber.  “If you’re going to change the country, you’ve got to change the South.  If you’re going to change the South, you’ve got to focus on these state capitols.”