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Public Education's 'Shock Doctrine Summer' Rolls Out Once More

School year 2013 will likely be harder on children and youth enrolled in public pre-K-12 education than the year they just survived.

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With the glow of high school graduations still lingering in many American families, and analysts predicting that an " economic recovery" is on the way, this is a time when you'd expect to start hearing more positive news about the state of US public education. You'd be wrong.

In fact, not only is there no financial "recovery" in the offing for most public school systems, school year 2013 will likely be harder on our children and youth enrolled in pre-K-12 education.

Thus far, our country's political leadership is coming up short in addressing the calamity befalling our children and young people. But for progressives, the way forward is becoming clearer, if we choose to lead the way.

What Is Happening?

Last year's "Shock Doctrine Summer," rolled out much in the same way school year 2013 appears to repeat, with a litany of deep education cuts and increased pressure to transfer taxpayer funds for public schools to private interests.

This one-two punch to public schools emulates all too well the "Shock Doctrine" Naomi Klein described, in which catastrophes, in this case man-made, are turned into opportunities for business interests to impose economic control on the public well-being.

For an account of the financial strife inflicted on public K-12 schools in 2012, folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have the numbers.

In 2012, state governments, which account for about half of all funds spent on K-12 schools, generally went cut-happy to see how low they could go in slashing the amount of money spent on every child in their schools:

  • At least 27 states cut per student funding by more than 2 percent.
  • 19 states cut per student funding by more than 5 percent.
  • 4 states -- IL, KS, TX, WI -- cut spending levels per student by 10 percent or more.

Although state lawmakers blamed these cutbacks on the recent recession, the fact is that the cutting frenzy these legislators engaged in went back in time to pre-recession levels:

  • Almost two-thirds of states provided less per-student funding for K-12 education in 2012 than they did in 2008.
  • In over one-third of states, per student funding is 10 percent or more below pre-recession levels.
  • Four states -- AZ, CA, HI, SC -- reduced funding by more than 20 percent from pre-recession levels.

What these severe budget cuts produced on the ground was less access to public pre-K programs for poor children, reduced course offerings to students, fewer opportunities for students to engage in extra curricular activities and vocational pursuits, and larger and larger class sizes.

As evidence of the strife, the American Association of School Administrators found, in its annual mid-year survey of school leaders, that in order to adapt to financial constraints imposed by state governments:

  • More than half of schools increased class size.
  • 35 percent reduced nonacademic programs such as after school and Saturday enrichment programs.
  • Nearly one third reduced elective courses -- such as foreign languages, social sciences, and arts classes -- required for graduation. (emphasis mine)
  • Over half deferred textbook purchases.
  • Nearly one fifth reduced "high cost course offerings" including occupational education (shop, tech, vocational, etc.)
  • 40 percent delayed instructional improvement initiatives.
  • Nearly half reduced instructional materials.
  • Almost 30 percent eliminated field trips.
  • 29 percent reduced extra-curricular activities.
  • 22 percent eliminated summer school.

These kinds of cuts do direct harm to students. For instance, in New York, according to an article in The New York Times, more high school students aren't able to get into the colleges of their dreams -- not because they can't afford them -- but because "school districts are being forced to cut electives, remedial tutoring, foreign languages, and other programs and services" students need to gain admission. The same thing is happening in California.