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School, and Family, Budgets Under Pressure

U.S. educators feel the combined effects of a weak economy, collapsed housing market and high costs of food and fuel. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Fifty million public school children in America are starting a new school year. The number is a record high. Yet, at the same time, school systems in many areas are facing budget problems.

The weak economy is not the only cause. Another reason has to do with increased prices for food and fuel. They mean higher costs for school meals and bus transportation.

The United States will spend more than five hundred billion dollars on public education for the coming school year. The federal government helps pay, but the responsibility for education is mostly on state and local governments.

Two major sources of money for public schools are property taxes and sales taxes. A slowdown in consumer spending, the engine of the economy, means fewer goods to tax. And the collapse of the housing market means less money to collect in property taxes.

A report in July from the National Conference of State Legislatures said thirty-one of the fifty states were having budget problems. And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says school officials in at least eleven states have cut or proposed cuts in education.

Florida, for example, has cut school aid by about two percent per student. State officials say tax collections are low and lottery sales have fallen by one hundred million dollars. Florida and many other states use money from sales of lottery tickets to help pay for education.

Around the country, the economic slowdown has added to the numbers of children receiving free or reduced price lunches at school. In other words, many of the same economic problems that have hit school budgets have also hit family budgets.

Each year, the education group Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup organization gather opinions about American public schools. This year's poll found support for increased use of federal taxes to finance public schools and to help young people attend college.

People were also asked which presidential candidate they would vote for if they were voting on the basis of a desire to strengthen the public schools. Forty-six percent chose Democrat Barack Obama. Twenty-nine percent chose Republican John McCain.

In the last two presidential elections, the poll found Americans equally split on which candidate would be more supportive of the schools.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. To learn more about American education, go to I'm Steve Ember.