Schools feeling the economy's pinch

The economic pinch felt across the United States is encroaching more on school districts, which are seeing its effects in the form of layoffs, larger class sizes, and cuts to programs and curriculum.

At least 18 states have cut K-12 education, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and more is expected as legislatures return this year. Thirty-seven states plus the District of Columbia are facing combined budget deficits of approximately $66 billion in the 2009 fiscal year.

The spending trims and cuts come as no surprise given the scope of the economic downturn, but K-12 education has been relatively protected in recent years. That’s not true anymore.

More than 30 percent of school districts have moved to larger classes in response to the downturn, according to a survey released by the American Association of School Administrators. And state legislatures, which have made K-12 education the largest line item in their budgets, are targeting schools as a way to help expenses match rapidly declining revenues.

In states such as Virginia, which has protected education despite shortfalls in the past, teacher raises are on hold and layoffs may be necessary depending on the level of cuts, according to Gov. Tim Kaine’s office.

Washington state has cut its early education quality rating program, which was designed to improve child care, to save nearly $3 million. Oregon has rolled back plans to increase graduation requirements in math to save money on remediation.