Elementary, My Dear Watson
It appears the state of Missouri might be running into some revenue problems (net general revenue collections were down in October compared to October 2010). I previously identified some low-hanging fruit that can be cut without too much damage, but if the state still faces a shortfall next year, which is very possible, then officials might have to make some difficult choices.
Many politicians are justifiably concerned when the topic of education budget cuts is raised. It is easy to imagine why. Nobody welcomes the prospect of facing a 30-second advertisement detailing the many reasons he/she doesn’t care about children because he/she proposed cuts in education spending. However, out of a Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) budget of more than $5 billion, it is definitely possible to find some savings. For example, one school district paid lifetime health care insurance just to retain its superintendent another year. Isn’t that a worthwhile issue to examine regarding budget cuts?
I can hear the concern of those who think budget cuts to DESE would cause great harm, but would some cuts really be so horrible? Not really, at least according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics. Compared to 2003, the test scores for Missouri students ROSE for both fourth and eighth graders in math (for fourth graders, the average score in 2003 was 235; the average in 2011 was 240) and scores remained the same for eighth graders in reading (see page 51). Only fourth-grade reading scores dropped (222 in 2003 compared to 220 in 2011) over that period.
I’m not saying that cutting the state education budget will necessarily lead to BETTER test scores. All I’m saying is that cutting the education budget MIGHT not be as much of a disaster as some may fear. We have been trying the opposite approach for a while now and it’s not producing significant results. It is difficult to argue that there is NO room for savings in the DESE budget. In regards to balancing the budget next year, everything should be on the table.