Photo by Michael Brunk

Photo by Michael Brunk

Despite largely escaping the mid-year “trigger” cuts, many school districts are still struggling to cope with the accumulated effect of budget cuts over the past three years.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced Tuesday that schools will face only $79.6 million in mid-year cuts to their general funds instead of a possible $1.5 billion. However, the state did eliminate $248 million for school buses, which may cause districts to cut back on transportation, or dip into their reserves or general funds to offset the cuts, especially for special education students.

At the same time, the unexpected reprieve that school districts were handed yesterday will do nothing to alleviate the cumulative effect of cutbacks over the past three years that are making it increasingly difficult for schools to meet the needs of their students. An  EdSource survey of the 30 largest school districts conducted this fall underscored how the ongoing financial crisis in California has affected classrooms. Preliminary findings show that:

  • Class size in kindergarten through 3rd grade is growing, with 30 or more students in at least one grade in more than half of the K-12 districts surveyed. Only San Francisco was able to offer classes with an average of 22 students or less in all its K-3 classes.
  • The teacher workforce is shrinking in the 30 largest districts, though many teachers who got pink slips have been rehired. Altogether, about 11,000 teachers got pink slips last spring and 9,000 were rehired.
  • For some school districts, the number of instructional days has fallen below 180. A dozen of the 30 largest districts have a school year of less than 180 days — fewer than almost all other states and industrialized countries.
  • Eighteen of the 30 largest districts are experiencing declining student enrollments, some as high as 5 percent compared with the 2007-08 school year. That means that they receive less money from the state — between about $5,000 and $6,000 per student based on attendance — forcing schools to cut back on a range of programs.

EdSource has partnered with New America Media to shed light on what the ongoing financial crisis means on a day-to-day basis for California schools. The New America Media website offers a number of stories illustrating the impact of these cuts on individual schools.  The stories will be made available in several languages and distributed to news outlets around the state.

In January, EdSource will release a full report on its survey results and other findings that describe a number of “stress factors” affecting the state’s largest school districts serving over 2 million students.

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