Threatened by Tighter Budgets, More States Challenge Teacher Union Perks

It was exactly two years ago today that President Obama flew to town to shake lots of bills off the magical money tree for Colorado public schools. Now the federal dollars (borrowed from my future) have dried up. Our new governor John Hickenlooper bore the news to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) on Tuesday: $332 million in direct cuts from this year’s School Finance Act for 2011-12.

The two main culprits? One is a projected decline of 7 percent in property tax assessments, which will cut well over $100 million from school budgets statewide. The other, as I hinted at the beginning, is the end of more than $200 million in one-time federal funds. Rather than cushion the blow, the ARRA and Edujobs money just delayed the pain.

Meanwhile, in some states governors and other leaders have seized the opportunity to address long-term systemic issues that have added significantly to the cost of K-12 public schools without improving results. To look at it a different way, they want to revamp education so it’s less like a car factory. I’m talking about states like:

Just to name a few. How remarkable to witness the sizable political will being exercised to fight through the pain and resistance of established interest groups (read: teachers unions) to make the type of transformative changes called for in these challenging times. Stay tuned to these states. There may be others on the way.

On the other hand, you have states like California, where the governor is pushing to raise taxes to spare any cuts to K-12. If that approach falters on the Left Coast, what does it say about its chances in other states?

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, told Colorado’s JBC that the people of this state don’t have the appetite for a tax increase. What does that mean? Time to get creative and think outside the box.