Outlook 2010: School, university budgets under pressure from continued money woes

No one knows with certainty how severe the economic collapse would have been without federal intervention, but it's clear that even with relief from the federal stimulus, many schools and universities will have to continue to address financial obstacles that threaten the quality of education students receive.

Hardly a day has gone by in recent months that didn't include a report of a budget shortfall that would have dire consequences for education: tuition hikes, program cuts, employee furloughs and layoffs, and shuttered facilities.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that at least 36 states have either cut funding or raised tuition at public colleges and universities. The University of California system has raised undergraduate fees by 32 percent and has curtailed freshman enrollment. Reduced state aid forced the California State University system to announce plans to slash enrollment at its 23 campuses by some 40,000 students.

In the University of North Carolina system, state funding cuts forced the system to eliminate more than 900 jobs. Washington State University increased undergraduate tuition by 14 percent each for 2009-10 and 2010-11. Even with the cuts, university officials say they will need to cut $54 million from its budget over those two years.

The Center also says that at least 27 states and Washington, D.C., have cut aid to K-12 schools and programs. In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels has ordered school funding cuts for 2010 of nearly $300 million, or about 3.5 percent. Daniels urged districts to avoid layoffs with steps such as salary and hiring freezes; outsourcing transportation and custodial services; and consolidating some services with other districts, but some systems may have no alternative.

In Hawaii, state officials found out that the public won't stand for cutbacks that are perceived as direct assaults on classroom instruction. Hawaii cut 17 instructional days to save money in a measure that became known as "Furlough Fridays." The action quickly drew a widespread public outcry from parents that believed the state did not fully explore other options before taking away from student instructional time. State officials eventually relented and were working to find funding to restore furlough days.

Educators fear that once the federal stimulus runs its course, programs and jobs that have been spared so far will again be at risk.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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