Outlook for Education in 2011

Last week, 29 new governors took office. Their states, like most, are facing significant budget gaps despite that fact that revenues are expected to grow. Hard choices will need to be made and no one is exempt — including education.

According to the National Governor’s Association report, The Fiscal Survey of the States — December 2010, “After two of the most challenging years for state budgets, fiscal 2011 will present a slight improvement over fiscal 2010. However, even an improvement over one of the worst time periods in state fiscal conditions since the Great Depression states still forecast considerable fiscal stress.

Additionally, in fiscal 2012 a significant amount of state funding made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will no longer be available. The significant wind down of this support will result in a continuation of extremely tight fiscal conditions for states and could lead to further state spending cuts.” The good news is that 35 states have enacted budgets with higher general fund spending compared to fiscal 2010. The not so good news is that 36 states still forecast lower general fund spending in fiscal 2011 compared to fiscal 2008.

So what does this mean for education? K-12 education funding is the states’ largest budget item, with higher education coming in third. In fiscal 2010, 35 states made mid-year program cuts to K-12 education totaling $5.4 million. Thirty-two states made cuts to higher education totaling $2.5 million. In fiscal 2011, the numbers were greatly improved with 13 states cutting K-12 funding ($1 million) and 10 states making cuts to higher education ($711,000). Add to that an end to federal stimulus funding for education, and in 2011, we are likely to see a loss of non-essential services and aggressive streamlining of others; a greater emphasis on group purchasing and outsourcing; school closures and consolidation; increases in tuition and fees; a reduction in the number of credit hours required for a degree; more dual enrollment programs; and a greater use of technology.

We all will need to do more with less in 2011 – be more creative, cling less to old ways. Change may be hard, but it is not always bad.