Continuing budget cuts forecast for education

Budget cutting season is about to start for state agencies, and leaders of the Department of Education say they’re not surprised to hear forecasts that funding for schools will have to be reduced both this year and next.

"The bad news we expected is here," said Larry Winter, a member of the state Board of Education and a forensic accountant. "Our budget numbers went from bad to worse."

School board members were told this week that the DOE will have to submit a revised budget for the current year, which started July 1 and ends next June 30, based on three possible scenarios:  4 percent, 6 percent or 8 percent cuts.

Then, for fiscal 2012, which picks up July 1, 2011, the agency will have to identify potential cuts of 6 percent, 8 percent and, possibly, 10 percent. Translated into dollars, that would be $24.2 million on the low end and $40.3 million on the high end.

For the current fiscal year, the agency would be looking at cutting between $16 million and $32 million, state school board members were told.

"A person would have had to have had their head in the sand not to have expected these instructions," Wanda Barrs, board chairwoman said.

Spared the budget ax, at least for now, would be 2012 funding in three key areas: the QBE (Quality Basic Education) formula, the major source of state funding for local schools; equalization grants, money earmarked to help the state's poorest counties; and money for the state schools for the deaf and blind.

The DOE and other state agencies have made several rounds of cuts in the last two years as revenue dropped because of a sluggish economy. Federal stimulus money, which is disappearing, prevented deeper cuts.

State agencies typically are expected to present their budget recommendations -- including proposals for potential cuts -- to the governor by early fall. The governor and his staff then review the proposals, before submitting two budget recommendations to the House and Senate.

The House and Senate each pass their own versions of a supplemental budget for the current year and a spending plan for the coming year, before a small group from each chamber meets to hash out their differences.

State officials are still trying to determine the impact of Congress' recent approval of a multi-million-dollar education/jobs bill that's been touted as having the potential to save thousands of teachers from being furloughed.