How Americans would cut school budgets

If you had to balance a public school budget, would you lay off teachers, cut pay or raise taxes? Who’d go first if layoffs were essential? How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education reports on a Fordham survey.

If their own school district were facing a serious deficit, 48 percent said the best approach would be “to cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business,” rather than raise taxes or wait out the downturn. How?

Shrink the administration. A broad majority (69 percent) supports “reducing the number of district level administrators to the bare minimum” as a good way to save money because “it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.”

Freeze salaries to save jobs. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) say freezing salaries for one year for all district employees is a good way to save money “because the district can avoid laying off people.”

If teachers must be laid off, base it on their effectiveness, not years of service. About three in four (74 percent) say that those with poor performance should be “laid off first and those with excellent performance protected”; only 18 percent would have “newcomers laid off first and veteran teachers protected.”

In addition, there was broad support for closing schools and merging districts, raising class sizes in non-core subjects such as art, music, and physical education and replacing expensive special ed programs.

However, respondents rejected shortening the school year and shrinking the non-teaching staff.

They split on charging fees for after-school sports and extracurricular activities, using blended learning (a mix of Internet and classroom instruction), and “virtual” schools.

Here’s part of the survey.



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  1. Mark Roulo says:

    “If you had to balance a public school budget, would you lay off teachers, cut pay or raise taxes?”

    Since only 50% of school employees (I’m counting aides, nurses, principals, district staff, etc. here) are teachers, why are we restricting our layoff options to just teachers? Are the other 50% doing stuff so critical that they are not touchable?

    • Miller Smith says:

      50% not teachers?! How about Prince George’s County (borders the Eastern side of DC) ? We have 7500 teachers and,……12,600 “support personnel.”

      • The employment shift sounds very similar to the shift in Detroit, which has experienced a similar ethnic shift (albeit a couple of decades earlier).

        Perhaps there are commonalities which could be pursued and analyzed… unless they are Politically Incorrect, of course.

    • Oh, that option’s already being explored across the country. Charters, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, do quite nicely without any central office staff and where they don’t a bit of perfectly targetted organizational extinction neatly solves the problem.


      1) How about shrinking the central office staff, including the superintendant and the entourage, to zero?

      2) Yeah, OK. Those salaries have been going up for no other reason then that the political muscle was there to make them go up. God knows it wasn’t because the kids were coming out of the schools better educated.

      3) Ought to be a no-brainer but this is public education where educational considerations come dead last where they’re considered at all.

      4) Yeah, and off-load as much of the scut work of teaching onto computers leaving, to as great an extent as possible, the tasks for which people are best suited.

      5) Yeah.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    It is nice that they talk about how their survey sample is not representative of the US adult population … and thus the results are not valid:

    According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 26.6 percent of U.S. homes had only a wireless phone as of June 2010. A total of 909 interviews were completed on landlines and 100 on cell phones. Survey data are weighted to population parameters in age, race, and education.

    (from page 30)

    The cell-phone only folks, who make up 25% of the population, are only 10% of the survey. I’m guessing that the demographics of these two groups is different, too, so this actually matters!

  3. There’s perennial magical thinking involved in surveys of the public. “I want more public services but don’t think taxes should be raised to pay for them” is the pervasive attitude.

    What if all the money put into these useless surveys (and the pointless reporting of them in the media) went into public services and infrastructure? Put that down as my response.

  4. ChristinaW says:

    Very very interesting. In Chicago we are going through this right now. The public schools budget is in the deficit by millions and the mayor just put out an initiative to hire more teachers. However, he hasn’t said how they will pay for 400 new teachers under a 300 million dollar deficit. There are so many people who are not teachers and are useless working for school systems. While it is not desired, these jobs, in my opinion, would have to be cut. While I was in high school, we had a woman in the office whose job was simply to print copies for teachers and give students reinstatement forms when they were absent. Why are we paying her 30,000 a year to print paper. These are the type of jobs that will need to go, in my opinion.

  5. How would I cut K-12 budgets (if public-sector unions were no obstacle and pigs flew)? Cut enrollment.
    Parent Performance Contracting allows administrators to determine where to cut, while creating strong incentives to cut fat and not muscle from school budgets. Even at a subsidy of 100% of regular-ed costs, escape options reduce costs as they reduce school staff and so reduce the costs of retirement benefits.

    • Cutting enrollment?? You DO realize all children in the US get a free public education?

      • I realize that the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel compels 50 million sub-adults to work, unpaid, as window-dressing in their make-work program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel. The cartel’s schools (the “public” schools) are not free to students. The cost to students of the cartel’s schools includes the opportunity cost of the time that they spend in school.

        • Nope,sorry, still think your statement was incredibly stupid.

          • “(A)ll students in the US get a free education” is incredibly stupid. Schools graduate illiterates. This kid got it right. Some don’t get any education, and miss the on-the-job training they might have had.

          • And as usual Mike resorts to insults when he can’t slide by on lies.

            By the way Mike, Louisiana’s enacted parental trigger. I’ll keep you posted on when Michigan follows suit.


    • I agree. Optional graduation at sixteen for students showing proficiency to enter a career or technical program just makes sense. And it would save money. In fact, dropping compulsory education laws and supporting home schooling, alternative schooling, and even un-schooling, makes sense and would also save money. That and administration and support staff to meet a monstrosity of compliance would help to. Additionally, cutting mandated state testing and more effectively and sparsely using private testing programs would be quite helpful

  6. Freeze salaries to save jobs. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) say freezing salaries for one year for all district employees is a good way to save money “because the district can avoid laying off people.”
    We had a 6-year pay freeze. I just got a 1% increase.

  7. No pension reform? That would be my #1 cost-saving measure.

    Every current employee with more than 5 years before retirement eligibility immediately gets switched to a cash-balance plan. All new employees are eligible for a 401k-style plan only.

    No more retiree health benefits either.

    Private sector organizations made these kinds of reforms 20+ years ago. I don’t know anyone my age (mid-thirties) who will be eligible for a traditional pension except for government employees.

  8. My #2 cost-saving measure would be to put the top 25-33% of students on a track where they complete the K-8 curriculum in 7 years and then attend high school from ages 12-16.

    • Why confine students in school for 12 years if they don’t need to spend 12 years in school to assimilate the material?
      Nothing better demonstrates that the US K-PhD education system is an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel than the measurement of education in units of time. “A year of Algebra” or “three credit-hours of US Diplomatic History” makes as much sense as “a pound of friendship” or “a square meter of curiosity”.
      Mandatory (for schools) credit by exam for all courses required for graduation would bust this racket. Performance would skyrocket. Students will work for freedom.

      • “A year of Algebra” or “three credit-hours of US Diplomatic History” makes as much sense as “a pound of friendship” or “a square meter of curiosity”.

        It’s not quite that incommensurate (things do take time to learn, though the individual pace varies), but one cannot argue that hours mean nothing if they do not yield results.

  9. Reading the comments from the “study” is very interesting; in fact, they seem to be a collection of right wing talking points. Their “random” selection of people using words and phrases like “more money is not the answer” and “defined benefits” and of course these randomly selected people just happened to be on the conservative side of teacher seniority/retention.

    And as always, there’s no mention of peer review.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      A peer-reviewed article is likely to be better than one that is not. But peer review is hardly a guarantee of quality. Recently, a number of cases have come to light of fraudulent data in peer-reviewed articles. One scientist had over 200 such articles!

      • Mike’s just borrowing a tactic from the anthropogenic global warming weenies. It’s a wrinkle on the appeal-to-authority scam which means you either don’t have any decent work to back your hypothesis or you don’t care.

        In Mike’s case it’s the latter since he’s never been shy about the importance of paying teachers as a function of their demands rather then of the value they bring to the education system.

  10. School Spirit Pays says:

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