State May Turn to Fiscal Case for School Choice

Despite bleak fiscal conditions that could thwart some of their priorities, governors and state lawmakers—bolstered in some cases by new Republican majorities—are expected to press forward this year with ambitious education proposals that could include changing teacher job protections and expanding school choice.

Newly elected and returning officeholders go to work this month as states struggle to climb out of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, with many warning that K-12 education—historically insulated from the budget ax—is likely to face severe cuts.

While state tax revenues have improved somewhat recently, 15 states already have reported new budget shortfalls since the fiscal 2011 year began last summer, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And states are likely face continuing budget gaps over the next two years as well, according to the Denver-based research and policy organization.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a newly inaugurated Democrat, already has warned school officials to expect deep reductions as his state tries to close a $28 billion, two-year deficit, out of a total yearly state budget of about $92.5 billion.

“This is really a huge challenge, unprecedented in my lifetime,” Mr. Brown said at a forum last month on education funding at the University of California, Los Angeles. The governor, 72, is returning to the office he last held in 1983. “You’re looking at a lot of things that a lot of people care very deeply about, and very much depend on,” he added, “and those are the things that are going to be cut back, because we have no other choice.”

California is hardly alone. So far in fiscal 2011, 13 states have made midyear budget cuts to K-12 schools, according to a recent survey by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers.

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