The Cancer Is Spreading
“People here worry that they won’t have enough money to last through the month,” he said.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With mortgage foreclosures throwing hundreds of families out of their homes here each month, dismayed school officials say they are feeling the upheaval: record numbers of students turning up for classes this fall are homeless or poor enough to qualify for free meals.
“We’re seeing a lot more children in poverty,” said Lauren Roberts, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County school system, a 98,000-student district that includes Louisville and its suburbs.
At the same time, the district is struggling with its own financial problems. Responding to a cut of $43 million by the state in education spending and to higher energy and other costs, school officials in Jefferson County have raised lunch prices, eliminated 17 buses by reorganizing routes, ordered drivers to turn off vehicles rather than letting them idle and increased property taxes.
The Jefferson County system is typical this school year.
As 50 million children return to classes across the nation, crippling increases in the price of fuel and food, coupled with the economic downturn, have left schools from California to Florida to Maine cutting costs. Some are trimming bus service, others are restricting travel, and a few are shortening the school week. And as many districts are forced to cut back, the number of poor and homeless students is rising.
“The big national picture is that food and fuel costs are going up and school revenues are not,” said Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “We’re in a recession, and it’s having a dramatic impact on schools.”
Louisville’s pain is minor compared with the woes of some cities. Detroit has laid off at least 700 teachers, Los Angeles 500 administrators and Miami-Dade County hundreds of school psychologists, maintenance workers and custodians.
Schools in many states have cut bus stops to save diesel. Districts in California and Ohio have gone further and eliminated bus service either completely or for high schools, leaving thousands of students to find their own way to school.
In Maine, officials worried about the cost of heating their classrooms this winter have restricted travel for field trips to save money. Districts in Louisiana, Minnesota and elsewhere have taken a more radical measure and adopted four-day school weeks. Hundreds of districts, responding to higher food prices, are charging more for cafeteria meals.
In interviews, educators in many states said they were seeing more needy families than at any time in memory. Two charities in suburban Detroit announced in August that they would hand out student backpacks, attracting hundreds of families.
“They went through all 300 backpacks in three hours, boom, and that was that,” said Kathleen M. Kropf, an official in the Macomb Intermediate School District. “We’re seeing a lot of desperate people.”
There were no giveaways for Jacci Murray, 28, a single mother in West Palm Beach, Fla., who said she lost her job six months ago. Ms. Murray bought pencils and crayons for her son, Cameron, who is in the second grade, from a discount bin at Office Depot. Saying she felt “cheap and broke,” she pored fretfully over her school supplies list, afraid to waste gas by making more than one shopping trip.
“It’s been tough this year,” Ms. Murray said. “I’m depressed about school.”
We can either sit with our thumbs up our backside to try to craft a solution. Kill the messenger or call to arms?
Whether you choose to believe it or not, municipalities are running out of money around the country. And not just schools. If this trend keeps going you could tax everyone 100% and still fall short.