Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 13
After the December layoffs, administrators and school board
members assumed the state would
increase the amount of state aid
Rochester would receive. Then the
Along with worrying if they'll
have a job next month, Rochester's
teachers have been attempting to
roll out distance learning plans and
checking on the well-being of their
Rochester's union has posted on
its website open teaching jobs across
the state and teachers have encouraged each other to keep handy documents proving the day and time they
signed their contracts since the layoffs are last in, first out.
Board members, who meet biweekly via Zoom, have been at odds
with the district's administration
over which programs to cut and
which schools to close. Because so
much revenue comes from outside
the district, administrators have little
flexibility on how to spend its money.
And on April 23, Superintendent
Terry Dade quit. He had barely been
on the job for a full year.
"It's been brutal," said Abby Bardanis, a bilingual special education
teacher who works with refugee students and worries about being laid
off. "We've been defeated by the
The school district in
Rochester, N.Y., is already
reeling from deep cuts to its
budget that have resulted in
hundreds of layoffs and
school closures. The district
is at high risk of more painful
cuts as the shutdown of the
economy dries up state sales
and income tax revenue, the
district's chief source of
Sales and income taxes generated by
Hawaii's tourism pays for schools-
an industry that has ground to a halt.
The state's school system is predicting a $1.5 billion shortfall next year
and the governor has proposed pay
cuts for teachers as high as 30 percent as one remedy for filling the gap.
Cutting salaries could hurt teacher
recruitment and retention at a time
when the state already struggles to
hire enough teachers.
The demographics of districts dependent on state aid vary by state and
depend on how well states target their
aid to students with the most needs.
Nearly every district in Vermont-
there are more than 200 of them-is
almost entirely reliant on state aid.
In Georgia, which plans to cut $1.6
billion from its K-12 budget this year,
more than two-thirds of students in
districts that receive the majority of
their funding from state aid are poor.
That's compared to 58 percent of students in districts that are less than 50
percent reliant on state aid.
In addition, Education Week identified more than 465 school districts
that have instituted sales taxes of
their own. Philadelphia, for example,
generated $381 million from local
taxes on parking meters, hotel occupancy, and lottery ticket sales in 2016.
Much of that money is likely now
gone, according to school officials.
In New York state-the epicenter of
the coronavirus outbreak-an analysis done by the Education Law Center shows that an across-the-board
percentage cut to K-12 spending,
which is how legislatures have historically made budget cuts, will be
devastating to a district like Rochester but will have little impact on the
public schools in Pittsford, N.Y., a
suburb which sits just southeast of
Pittsford, where the median household income is more than $116,000,
is majority white. U.S. News & World
Report this year ranked its two high
schools among the nation's top one
The 5,000-student district, whose
leafy cul-de-sacs are lined with large
homes, gets more than 76 percent of
its money from property tax revenue
and only 23 percent from the state.
The district is keeping a close eye
on what state lawmakers do to address budget cuts, but has so far made
no plans to lay off staff this year, a
Boom and Bust
Economists have long warned that,
because students academically thrive
in stable learning environments, school
districts should avoid building budgets
on revenue sources such as sales and
income tax, which swing wildly depending on unemployment rates, the
stock market, and even the weather.
But using state sales and income
tax revenue for schools was a politically palatable answer to courts that
began to demand in the 1970s that
states even out K-12 spending disparities between wealthy and poor
The risks of that remedy played out
starkly during the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009 when sales and
income tax revenues went into a tailspin, accelerating a divide between
wealthy and poor school districts.
By 2010, more than 300,000 public school librarians, counselors, office secretaries, and teachers had lost
their jobs-layoffs that fell disproportionately on low-income urban and
rural districts. A study released last
year showed that districts that cut
the deepest in the Great Recession
showed the least progress in students'
academic performance, as measured
by standardized test scores.
The job losses and spending cuts
would have been far worse without a
$100 billion bailout for schools under
the 2009 American Recovery and
Counterintuitively, even though
the recession was sparked by the collapse of the housing market, property
tax revenues rose. That's because
states allowed school districts to adjust their property tax rates to offset
dipping home values. Wealthy school
districts escaped unscathed.
"All of states' efforts to equalize
spending was undone in the last decade," said William Evans, an economist at Notre Dame University who
studied the effect that the last recession had on America's public schools.
"State funding for education is a way
to equalize spending across districts,
but the problem is that when there are
these global economic shocks, states'
budgets are going to get crushed."
Rochester in Bad Shape
Rochester has for decades had
a fraught relationship with New
York's state legislature over school
spending. The district spends
around $12,500 per student, roughly
$1,000 less than the state average.
Its per-pupil spending on students
who require special education is
about $29,000, which is $3,000 less
than the state average. Twenty-two
percent of Rochester's enrollment
are students with disabilities.
In 2007, New York agreed to ramp
up its K-12 spending after losing a
years-long court battle over its funding formula. But the state, which
was slammed during the last recession, has failed to live up to that
promise. Today, the state is more
than $4 billion below its funding obligations to districts. For Rochester,
the state has fallen more than $86
million behind in its funding obligations.
"The state for years has been reneging on its constitutional obligation to equitably fund schools,"
said Jasmine Gripper, the executive
director of the Alliance for Quality
Education, a K-12 funding advocacy
organization that's filed a lawsuit
against the state. "It's systemic racism. Large populations of black,
brown and immigrant students are
not a top priority for this state."
The district's problems were compounded when, after the last recession, thousands of students left the
district for local charter schools.
Rochester's ongoing fiscal crisis
reached a head earlier this school
year when an auditor discovered
that the district's administration
spent $45 million more than it collected last school year.
Despite student walkouts, teacher
protests, and tearful school board
meetings, the district in December,
laid off 109 teachers. The layoffs
would have been even worse without a last-minute, $35 million, 30year loan from the state.
What's the Outlook?
If the past is a guide to how state
lawmakers will plug the giant hole
that the coronavirus has blown in
their budgets, the most vulnerable
school districts have a lot to worry
Historically, there's been little political will in statehouses to address
inadequate and inequitable school
"You want to use a scalpel instead
of a sledgehammer," said Aaron
Garth Smith, the director of education reform for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank. "Legislatures should siphon off scarce
resources from districts that need
If a huge, new bailout package
doesn't arrive from the federal government, K-12 funding advocates
are pushing for states to use alternative budget-cutting strategies such
as making bigger cuts from wealthier districts, temporarily capping
property tax revenue or overhauling
funding formulas. Such attempts
typically face fierce backlash from
suburban parents and their political
"Equity has always been a challenge for this country," said Van
Henri White, the president of Rochester's school board, which has had
to make budget cuts every year for
the last 12 years straight.
"The responsibility of our government is to make sure that there's
equitable funding for schools that
are behind the eight ball. Otherwise, why collect taxes? ... We have
to be crystal clear about the consequences of these draconian cuts: it
won't hurt school boards or administrators. It's going to hurt America's
most vulnerable children."
EDUCATION WEEK | May 13, 2020 | www.edweek.org | 13
Education Week - May 13, 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 13, 2020
Education Week - May 13, 2020
Collapse: Coronavirus Will Make Inequalities in Public Schools Even Worse
Remembering 18-Year-Old Who Died From Coronavirus
‘Summer Melt’ Could Be a Flood As Seniors Shift College Plans
Schools Struggle to Meet Students’ Mounting Mental-Health Needs
7 Big Issues for Unions and Districts in Remote Teaching Agreements
District Hard-Hit by COVID-19 Begins ‘Tough Work’ of Getting On
Right-to-Education Ruling Jolts Advocacy World
Teachers Without Internet Work In Parking Lots, Empty School Building During COVID-19
What We Can Still Learn From Hurricane Katrina
A Blueprint for Reopening Schools This Fall
The Sleeping Giant: Emotional Trauma
Letters to the Editor
EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Collapse: Coronavirus Will Make Inequalities in Public Schools Even Worse
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 2
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Briefly Stated
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 4
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Remembering 18-Year-Old Who Died From Coronavirus
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - ‘Summer Melt’ Could Be a Flood As Seniors Shift College Plans
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 7
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Schools Struggle to Meet Students’ Mounting Mental-Health Needs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 9
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 10
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 7 Big Issues for Unions and Districts in Remote Teaching Agreements
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 12
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 13
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - District Hard-Hit by COVID-19 Begins ‘Tough Work’ of Getting On
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 15
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Right-to-Education Ruling Jolts Advocacy World
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Teachers Without Internet Work In Parking Lots, Empty School Building During COVID-19
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - What We Can Still Learn From Hurricane Katrina
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - The Sleeping Giant: Emotional Trauma
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Letters to the Editor
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 21
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 22
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 24