Education Week - December 12, 2012 - (Page 22)

22 EDUCATION WEEK n DECEMBER 12, 2012 n GOVERNMENT & POLITICS K-12 Education Advocates Lobby to Avert Fiscal Cliff By Alyson Klein The coming fiscal cliff—the looming conversion of tax-break expirations and acrossthe-board budget cuts aimed at prodding a long-term federal deficit fix—has education advocates in Washington on overdrive. The number-one question keeping organizations that represent school districts and educators up at night is whether Congress will be able to reach an agreement to head off “sequestration,” a series of trigger budget cuts that will hit just about every federally funded education program on Jan. 2, unless Congress averts them by crafting a long-term agreement to curb the deficit. A number of K-12 programs, including Title I grants for districts and special education would be cut by 8.2 percent, although most districts wouldn’t feel the squeeze until next fall. (See related story, Page 24.) But there are many other issues in the fiscal-cliff debate that could affect K-12 schools, as lawmakers consider tax policy and changes to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Both President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, have put forward plans to avert the cliff. Mr. Obama’s proposal closely mirrors his fiscal 2013 budget request, which provided a modest boost for the U.S. Department of Education, while Mr. Boehner has called for $300 billion in new spending cuts, without specifics on K-12. Mr. Boehner’s plan was rejected by the White House and congressional Democrats. Keeping Watch As the negotiations unfold, education organizations are watching every aspect closely. “It’s not simply the 8.2 percent mid-year cut. There are a lot of moving pieces here,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in an interview. The 1.5 million-member aft and the 3 million-member National Education Association both support the Obama administration’s plan to continue tax increases for most Americans while raising taxes on the highest earners. If Congress is unable to agree to significant revenue increases, that could translate to more spending cuts, which could ultimately affect K-12, said Chuck Marr, the director of federal tax policy for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, an organization in Washington that studies the impact of fiscal policies on moderate and lowincome Americans. “It’s really sort of the first question, how much revenue contributes to the overall agreement,” he said. “There’s going to be pressure on [education spending] even if revenues are strong. That’s why education people care tremendously about the revenue numbers.” But others say that Congress is unlikely Education May Not Benefit From Brighter Financial Outlook States still wary about spending By Andrew Ujifusa Despite some positive signs that could help school budgets, states are still facing a shaky financial environment as they head into the new year—a circumstance that could disappoint advocates hoping that even sluggish economic progress could give K-12 funding a boost. Even in those states where money is being added to education budgets, officials still gun-shy about their finances are looking at more-focused increases. Higher general revenues for states may not always translate to reinvigorated budgets in general. “It is still true that people don’t want to reinflate what they had,” said Paul Hill, the founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington in Seattle. State Sen. Trip Pittman, left, and Rep. Jay Love address students, school officials, and the news media about Alabama’s education budget. The state has a surplus in its Education Trust Fund for the first time in four years. Too Rosy for Their Taste? Interpretations of state revenues vary, and sometimes good news isn’t greeted with sighs of relief. In the view of Mike Griffith, an education finance consultant for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, the arrow is “pointing upwards” on state tax revenues, despite frequent gloomy talk about budgets. For fiscal 2014, some 35 states will have recovered to prerecession revenue levels in total dollars, he said. “I’ve gotten in trouble at meetings, because I’ve been told I’ve been too rosy, I’m covering up what’s really happening,” he said. Even where the funding picture has improved, major challenges remain. In California, for example, the passage of Proposition 30 by California voters on Nov. 6 of a tax increase on high earners will prevent roughly $4.8 billion in K-12 funding cuts from Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget and increase per pupil spending by $2,500 per student over the next four years, Margaret Weston, a policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco, wrote in a report last month. “This would represent a significant increase of 37 percent from 2011-12 funding levels—but ... schools have experience large reductions since 2007-08 and have long been funded below the national average,” she wrote. At the same time, Democrats and moderate Republicans, as well as more-conservative leaders, are using the situation to call for radical changes in the way K-12 is financed and what gets funded. (Most legislative sessions begin in January or February.) In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant has proposed sweeping changes to the state’s K-12 system through his Education Reform Agenda. They include funding increases specifically for performance-based teacher bonuses and termination of social promotion in 3rd and 7th grades, based on proficiency. Specifically, the Republican’s budget provides $15 million more for teacher training and reading intervention related to ending social promotion. (No state dollars are specified for his teacher-bonus proposal.) Teach For America and the Mississippi Teacher Corps combined would also receive $6 million in the governor’s budget. “All of that is more of a focused energy, and focused financial energy, to schools to try to deal with the problems we face,” said state Rep. Rita Martinson, a Republican on the House education committee. The reading-proficiency part of Mississippi’s budget would be modeled on Florida’s system, she said. She also said officials must consider overhauling the Mississippi Adequate Education Program’s general funding formula. From fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2013, the state cut its per-pupil spending by 12.9 percent, the Washingtonbased Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported in September. Other findings on state tax trends indicate that the dollar’s declining buying power makes years. Sen. Trip Pittman, a Republican and the chairman of the senate’s education budget committee, is subsequently exploring boosting prekindergarten funding, with increases of $5 million to $12 million under discussion, due to the belief that early education can affect student achievement throughout the K-12 system. But for fiscal 2013, he noted, lawmakers found it helpful to rebuild the education budget starting from zero. Such exercises, brought about because of the fiscal crisis that left the Education Trust Fund with revenue increases less meaningful. a $437 million debt to the state’s The Nelson A. Rockefeller Insti- rainy day account, “really do help tute of Government in Albany N.Y., get a focus on being more efficient noted in a May report on “Federal, and doing better things with the State and Local Education Fi- dollars you do have,” he said. nances” that growth in state and local property-tax revenues crucial ‘We Do Expect Pushback’ to K-12 funding has slowed over the past five quarters and remains For Oregon’s 2013-15 biennial below levels from previous postre- budget, Gov. John Kitzhaber, a cession recovery periods. Democrat, is proposing an increase Rockefeller senior policy analyst in the state’s K-12 funding by Lucy Dadayan noted that when about 8 percent, from $5.7 billion numbers are adjusted for inflation, to $6.15 billion. His education adin fact, only eight states are expe- viser, Ben Cannon, said the money riencing revenues that at least would help districts recover from match their previous peak before recent layoffs and reductions in the 2007 recession. school days. But, simultaneously, Mr. Kitzha“In sum, while state tax revenue is recovering, it remains well below ber wants to pare district and state where previous trends would have obligations on retirement costs. For suggested,” Ms. Dadayan and fel- example, he is proposing to restrict low senior policy analyst Donald the 2 percent cost-of-living-adjustBoyd wrote in “State Revenue Re- ment for retired state employees port” for the Rockefeller Institute. to the first $24,000 in retirement Even where revenues are re- income an individual receives. The covering, legislators say they are plan would save school districts trying to practice more budget dis- $250 million and allow the money cipline. Alabama announced a sur- to be spent on classroom costs. plus, $14.4 million, in its Education Although the operating budgets Trust Fund for school operating and retirement costs occupy difbudgets for the first time in four ferent places in budget books, Mr. Dave Martin/AP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - December 12, 2012

Education Week - December 12, 2012
Test Designers Tap Students for Feedback
Race to Top Draws Out New Suitors
Common Core Taught Through the Arts
Federal Attention on ELL Needs Seen to Wane
News in Brief
Report Roundup
NAEP Seeks to Test New Measure Of Student Poverty
In Rural Areas, After-School Efforts Must Stretch to Provide Services
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: McGraw-Hill Education Sale Highlights Publishing Trends
K-12, Higher Ed. Unite to Align Learning In Minnesota
States Pledge to Expand School Hours, Days
Absenteeism Linked to Low Achievement In NAEP Time Study
Union Pushes Higher Standards For New Teachers
Brand-New NAEP Report on Vocabulary Shows Same Old Gaps
Psychiatrists Revising Manual On Mental Disorders
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: N.C. Law Protects Educators From Online Harassment
Blogs of the Week
Education May Not Benefit From Brighter Financial Outlook
K-12 Education Advocates Lobby To Avert Fiscal Cliff
Policy Brief
Louisiana’s Ambitious Voucher Effort Unclear Following Judge’s Ruling
BARNETT BERRY & FREDERICK M. HESS: Expanded Learning Time: An Avenue to Greater Change
DAVE POWELL: Confusing Achievement With Aptitude
ANITA N. VOELKER: Smokeless Santa? Sanitizing a Child’s World
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JAMES S. LIEBMAN: Ending the Great School Wars

Education Week - December 12, 2012