Reports today of the defeat by voters of more than half of New Jersey's school district budgets highlights a trend that will have a significant impact on students for years to come. In most years, more than 70% of school district budgets are passed by voters. The number rejected this year is the most since 1976. While it does not take an economist to understand the pressures facing families who must weigh the burden of school taxes at a time of lingering economic difficulties, we are deeply concerned that one inevitable result of budget defeats -- an increase in class size -- will have a long term negative impact on the children in the affected school districts.
It has been well settled by numerous researchers that small class size (generally 15 to 18 students in lower grades) is a significant factor in student achievement. Furthermore, these benefits are lasting, and have a particularly strong impact on younger children and "at risk" populations.
As districts around the country plan cuts to their budgets that include layoffs of thousands of teachers and increases in class size, this issue will arise in numerous districts and impact millions of children. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted in an interview in today's New York Times that there could be layoffs of between 100,000 to 300,000 public school employees nationally, and that the impact could be “education catastrophe.” We hope that school districts and voters alike take every possible action to render his concerns unfounded.