Earlier this week, my colleague Charlotte Hays proclaimed “Hooray for the Budget Crunch!” In this blog post, Charlotte praised Michelle Rhee for seeing an opportunity to advance education reform as states are struggling to stay afloat. Michael Horn sees a similar opportunity for education reform in 2011, predicting an increase in the rate of innovation in education over at Forbes:

2. Public school budgets will continue to shrink, so more districts will do more business with online learning providers to fill in the gaps. Just as technology has made virtually every other sector in society more productive, the same will happen in K-12 education out of necessity. …

3. An increasing number of suburban schools will begin using online learning, too. Online learning has made its biggest impact in K-12 education to date in rural schools that cannot afford to offer breadth in their curriculum and in credit recovery and dropout recovery programs in urban districts. …

4. Not to be outdone, education entrepreneurs will create high quality chartered schools that jump in the online learning game as well. They will do so by pioneering “blended-learning” schools, in which online learning is knit together with a supervised brick-and-mortar environment outside the home, so that they can scale faster-for less money and with better outcomes.

More and more people are coming to the conclusion that throwing more money at public schools hasn’t done much if anything to improve education in America. No matter to what size state education budgets grew, the entrenched special interests of education professionals benefiting from the status quo were able to put roadblocks in the way of meaningful education reform. This may be about to change.

In November of last year, I blogged on Innovation in Education, arguing that the lack of incentives and the overriding political influence of special interest groups were posing significant impediments to the increased adoption of technology and virtual learning in education. With the current and future budget woes, states can no longer afford to cater as much to teacher unions and other education professionals. States will have to make tough choices over their budgets and they may even be called upon by the courts to justify how they are still able to meet the quality of education required by law with less funding, as is the case in New Jersey at the moment.

Education reform, increased school choice, better use of technology and virtual learning options can help states save money while at the same time raising achievement scores. Tighter state budgets may very well turn out to be a boon for education.