New Study Finds School Districts Struggling in Response to Economic Downturn, Bracing for More Cuts

Oct. 27, 2009

Amy Vogt

ARLINGTON, Va. – The economic downturn continues to threaten the capacity of school districts nationwide, even in light of federal stimulus funds, according to a study released today by the American Association of School Administrators. “One Year Later: How the Economic Downturn Continues to Impact School Districts,” is the sixth in a series of studies conducted by AASA over the past year on the impact of the economic downturn on schools. The study is based on a survey of 875 school administrators conducted in September and October 2009. The study finds that while funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have provided some relief, districts in every part of the nation are being forced to make cuts that directly impact student learning and achievement, from cutting personnel to increasing class sizes. The data also suggest a “shell game” in which state budgets were cut after it was known that ARRA included money for education.

Survey Highlights
Highlights from the AASA survey include:

  • A majority of respondents report their districts have eliminated personnel -- and anticipate further cuts. A total of two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents reported having to eliminate personnel positions for the 2009-10 school year, and 83 percent anticipate having to eliminate further positions in 2010-11.
    • The survey’s 875 respondents identified 13,422 positions slated for elimination in the 2009-10 school year, an average loss of 15 positions per respondent in the 2009-10 school year. They identified 9,641 potential personnel cuts in 2010-11, an average of 11 positions per respondent.
  • While ARRA funds have allowed districts so save some of the positions slated for elimination, many still had to eliminate positions. As a result of ARRA funding, one-quarter (26 percent) of respondents were able to save all of the core-subject teaching positions slated for elimination in their district. One-third (33 percent) of respondents were able to save some, though not all, of the positions slated for elimination, and still had to cut core subject teachers. More than one third (35 percent) of respondents were unable to save any core subject teaching positions slated for elimination, a trend that held for special-education positions (36 percent unable to save any jobs) and teaching aide/assistant positions (37 percent unable to save any jobs).
  • The trend reaches beyond instructional positions. More than half (59 percent) of districts reported being unable to save any of the central-office or administrative positions slated for elimination in their district. Roughly the same amount of districts (58 percent) were unable to save any maintenance, cafeteria or transportation staff positions; 58 percent were unable to save school librarian positions, and 57 percent were unable to save school nursing positions.
  • When asked how ARRA dollars impacted their state and local revenues, 83 percent reported that ARRA dollars did not represent a funding increase. Only 13 percent reported that the ARRA dollars represented any increase above state and local funding levels. The data seem to illustrate a “shell game” in which state budgets were cut only after it was known that ARRA included money for education.
  • ARRA dollars are flowing to states and local school districts. An overwhelming majority of districts have already received or anticipate receiving very soon their ARRA Title I (90 percent) and Individual with Disabilities Education Act (94 percent) dollars.
  • AASA members have reported how difficult it can be to implement innovation and reform when funding levels are cut or flat-lined and the stimulus dollars are simply filling budget holes. When asked how their districts are using ARRA funds to bring about education innovation and reform, almost half (47 percent) reported that the ARRA funds are filling budget cuts and do not represent enough funding for new innovations/reform. This is up from 31 percent in AASA’s August 2009 survey.
  • The economic realities facing schools are forcing budget cuts in areas that directly impact student learning and achievement.
    • The percentage of districts increasing class size grew almost six-fold between 2008-09 and 2009-10, from 6 percent to 34 percent. Twenty-seven percent are considering class size increases for 2010-11.
    • The percentage of districts eliminating field trips almost doubled, from 9 percent in 2008-09 to 16 percent in 2009-10, and is anticipated to grow even further (to 25 percent) in 2010-11.
    • The percentage of districts deferring maintenance almost doubled from 13 percent in 2008-09 to 24 percent in 2009-10. A smaller amount (17 percent) are considering such action in 2010-11.
    • The percentage of districts cutting bus transportation routes and availability doubled, from 10 percent in 2008-09 to 20 percent in 2009-10. Fifteen percent of districts are considering similar cuts for 2010-11.
  • Districts are seeking flexibility in the stimulus dollars. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents expressed interest in being granted a waiver of the “maintenance of effort” requirement. Thirty-six percent of respondents reported that their state will allow local education agencies to take advantage of MOE waivers. Half (50 percent) reported that their state has yet to decide if they will allow LEAs to take advantage of this flexibility.

"The federal stimulus funds have helped schools, but not as much as hoped," said Mark Bielang, AASA president and superintendent in Paw Paw, Mich. "It is critical that Congress and the U.S. Department of Education continue to work to ensure schools have the resources they need to fuel economic recovery and growth, along with the flexibility to maximize ARRA’s investment in America’s public schools."

"This year is bad, but next year could be worse," said Daniel A. Domenech, AASA executive director. "School districts are bracing themselves for a ‘one-two punch’ as they budget for the 2010-11 school year. They will be facing tough questions about items, programs and personnel that can be cut with the least impact student achievement, considering what—if any—economic recovery is in store at the state and local levels, and contemplating the anticipated end of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds."

About the Survey
A total of 875 school administrators from 49 states and the District of Columbia completed the 26-question, online survey. Ninety-one percent of the respondents were superintendents, four percent were assistant superintendents, two percent were associate/deputy superintendents, and less than one percent were directors or principals. Seventy percent of respondents described their district as rural, 24 percent as suburban districts and six percent as urban.

AASA Economic Impact Studies
The previous studies in the AASA Economic Impact Study series are available at

About AASA
The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across the United States. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. For more information, visit Visit the AASA blog at Follow AASA on Twitter at and on Facebook at