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School districts slash spending across the US

School districts across the United States are implementing deep budget cuts. Citing the drop in student enrollment—the result of the criminal response of both political parties to the pandemic—federal, state and local officials are accelerating the attack on public education.

A major decline in enrollment in US public schools has taken place over the past two years. According to Return 2 Learn Tracker, a recent national survey on student enrollment, an estimated 1.2 million students have left public schools since the pandemic began.

There are still no definitive studies on the causes of the sharp decline. However, large numbers of working class parents likely pulled their children out of school because they lost jobs, suffered homelessness, got sick or lost family members who cared for children. Some parents with the economic means also transferred their children to parochial and other private schools, which have largely remained open throughout the pandemic.

As most public school funds are tied directly to student enrollment and attendance, districts face major budget deficits for the upcoming school years. Insufficient pandemic relief funding from the federal government has not stemmed the budget crisis. Projecting major budget deficits, districts across the US are already imposing austerity measures in the form of hiring freezes, school closures, cuts to vital services and programs including Special Education programs and English as a Second Language programs, teacher and staff layoffs, classroom consolidations and more.

A snapshot of school budget cuts in several areas gives a sense of the scale of this assault.

Minneapolis educators march earlier this year (WSWS Media)

In New York City Public Schools, the largest district in the US, over 50,000 students have left the district over the past two years. Proposals for cuts to the budget include cutting $215 million for the next school year and a total of nearly $1 billion to schools over the next three years.

In Minnesota, Minneapolis Public Schools faces an estimated $27.1 million budget deficit for the upcoming school year. Citing decline in enrollment and added expenses from meager employee raises under new labor agreements, the district plans to enforce a hiring freeze, cut 5 percent from each department, and decrease allocations to school sites. The district also plans to use 78 percent of its remaining pandemic relief funds to pay salaries for the next two years. The drastic cuts come two months after the 20-day strike of teachers and support staff in the district was shut down and betrayed by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

In California, student enrollment has declined by more than 250,000 students since 2019, representing the state’s lowest public school student enrollment numbers in 20 years. In the Sacramento City Unified School District, one month after the Sacramento City Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 sold out the strike of over 5,000 school employees, the district voted unanimously to lay off 106 classified positions, effective since last Friday, and unilaterally extend the school year. The district has cited the cost of the below inflation rate wage increases for educators and ends from lost instruction due to the strike as basis for its estimated $38.5 million budget deficit.

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