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Despite stimulus, education suffers cuts

School districts that have been forced because of budget cuts to lay off teachers earlier this year have been able to hire at least some of them back, thanks to federal stimulus money. But the funds have not been able to prevent totally the dismissals of teachers, the reduction or cancellation of programs for gifted or special-needs students, and other cuts to state budgets for K-12 and higher education.

As The New York Times points out Tuesday, federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) have been able to replace some of the cuts in state and city school budgets caused by drops in tax revenues - but barely so in states where the overall budget deficits have proved calamitous.

According to data at, $15.5 billion of an estimated $55.1 billion in federal stimulus money to be awarded to states for education purposes over the next two years has already been paid out. But it's not enough to forestall the effects of the some of the worst state budget deficits ever seen.

In April, after California had sent layoff notices to nearly 30,000 teachers, the state received nearly $4 billion in stimulus funds for education. But that state is still reeling from an anticipated a $26 billion budget deficit, and teachers who had been rehired may face more pink slips.

In Florida, the Times reports, Broward County rehired 100 of the 400 teachers it had laid off earlier this year thanks to stimulus funds. Arizona rehired many of the 7,000 teachers who had been let go. But the shortage of teachers will still mean larger class sizes.

A report last Thursday by the Washington-based Center for Budget Policy and Planning said at least 25 states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Washington) have cut state funds to school districts for K-12 education as well as pre-school programs like Head Start, programs for special-needs students, teacher training, math and science incentives, and adult literacy.

At least 34 states have cut funds to public colleges and universities, resulting in reductions in faculty and staff, and increases in tuition.

A survey last month by the American Association of School Administrators reported that school districts are using the one-time funds to preserve some teaching and staff positions, but less than half of the respondents reported being able to save core subject teaching positions, despite receiving stimulus funds.

Of the survey's respondents (representing 160 school administrators in 37 states), 53 percent said they were unable to save teaching positions for either core subjects or special education with ARRA dollars. In addition, majorities said they were unable to save librarian positions (85 percent); school nursing positions (84 percent); maintenance, cafeteria, or transportation staff positions (82 percent); foreign language teaching positions (80 percent); art, music, physical education teaching positions (74 percent); and teaching aide/assistant positions (51 percent).

Funds have been reported used for classroom technology, school supplies and professional development.

Blood from Stone

States are being hit hard by the recession, and schoolchildren are not excluded.

New Mexico faces a deficit of more than $400 million overall due to reduced income, sales and gross receipts taxes (which account for almost 70 percent of revenues for the state budget) and reduced taxes and royalties from oil and gas production because of lower energy prices.

The legislature and Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson are debating how to deal with the deficit, which may lead to furloughs of state workers. Richardson has proposed 3 percent spending cuts excluding public schools. But because salaries and benefits account for about 90 percent of some school district budgets, budget cuts in education could easily hit teachers and other staff, according to Tom Sullivan, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators.

"There is not a lot of flexibility," Sullivan said.

Georgia has imposed furloughs for educators in the current budget year. Teachers are likely to take furloughs when students aren't in the classroom, such as professional development days when they plan lessons or attend workshops.

In Mississippi Republican Gov. Haley Barbour said he's ordering budget cuts in many state programs, including public education, to cut state spending by $171.9 million. He said despite cuts educations will still receive more money than they had in the past.

Last Thursday in South Carolina the state's financial oversight board announced across-the board cuts of 4 percent, which would translate to $85 million less for the Department of Education, which has already suffered cuts.

"It's a further hardship on a lot of school districts that are very legitimately dealing with tough, tough times," said Republican Gov. Mark Sanford.

In Alabama the state's education budget had already been trimmed 11 percent. The acting state finance director Bill Newton said tax collections have been down but steady (between last October through August Alabama collected $4.8 billion in taxes for education, nearly $520 million less than the same period a year ago).

Every Little Bit Helps

In order to try to preserve teacher positions, other school services have gone under the knife. About 23 percent of school districts surveyed by the American Association of School Administrators this summer said . In some cases school buses are being retained only for disabled or special needs students.

Some districts looking to trim costs are taking more creative, or radical, approaches so as to save jobs.

In Indiana, CBS Affiliate WANE correspondent Drew Blair reports that officials with Fort Wayne Community Schools are pulling the plug on appliances - to save energy and money. The district, which recently cut nearly 50 classroom positions, changed its policy on teacher's personal appliances, like microwaves, mini-refrigerators and coffee pots.

By eliminating those small conveniences the district expects to save more than $50,000 a year.

"People did like to have them in their classrooms but they didn't have an educational value to them," FWCS Spokesperson Krista Stockman told WANE. "At this point we need to be looking everywhere we need to be looking for every dime we can to save money."

Spokesperson Kirby Stahly of East Allen County Schools said they were updating their energy policy as well, but are unsure what the ultimate savings will be. "Any dollar that we can save avoids having to potentially reduce staff," Stahly told WANE. producer David Morgan contributed to this report.

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