After more than a decade of increases in per-pupil funding for K-12 public schools, the nation’s per-pupil spending dropped in 2012 for the second year in a row, according to data released Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Schools across the country spent an average of $10,667 per student in fiscal year 2012, a decline of 2.8 percent compared to the year before, adjusting for inflation. Thirty-seven states saw per-pupil expenditures decline at least 1 percent, and some states saw much larger slides.
Per-pupil spending climbed steadily by at least 1 percent per year between 1996 and 2008, when the nation began to feel the effects of the recession. Spending flattened out between 2008 and 2010, and then in 2011 fell for the first time in 15 years.
In the world of school finance, the two-year funding drop is “big news,” said Stephen Cornman, project director of the national school finance survey or the National Center for Education Statistics.
The downturn has come as federal stimulus funds dried up, shrinking the federal government’s aid to schools by more than 20 percent between 2011 and 2012. At the same time, many local governments saw their property tax base evaporate in the housing collapse and states wrestled with balancing recession-battered budgets. Many Republican-dominated legislatures chose to cut spending instead of raising taxes.
In Wisconsin, for example, per-pupil spending dropped nearly 9 percent between 2011 and 2012 as Gov. Scott Walker (R) cut hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to public schools. Schools in Texas and Florida also saw per-pupil spending drop more than 8 percent.
The new federal data mirror an analysis of state education budgets by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That analysis, published last year, found that 35 states were spending less per student in 2014 than they were before the recession in 2008.
Cuts to education budgets have meant bigger class sizes and fewer programs in many schools; advocates argue that tight budgets have hobbled efforts to adjust to the new Common Core State Standards, expand access to pre-kindergarten and serve an increasingly needy student population.
As Congress sets about rewriting the federal No Child Left Behind law, the Obama administration and education advocates are pushing lawmakers to increase federal funding for schools.
These are the jurisdictions that saw the biggest proportional decreases in overall per-pupil spending between 2011 and 2012, adjusted for inflation:
● Wisconsin: From $12,297 to $11,233 per student, -8.7 percent
● Florida: From $9,295 to $8,520 per student, -8.3 percent
● Texas: From $8,939 to $8,213 per student, -8.1 percent
● Arizona: From $8,010 to $7,382 per student, -7.8 percent
● District of Columbia: From $21,402 to $19,847, -7.3 percent
Seven states saw per-pupil spending increase between 2011 and 2012, and just four of those saw an increase of more than 1 percent, adjusted for inflation. They were:
● Vermont: From $$15,138 to $16,651, +10 percent
● Delaware: From $12,833 to $13,580, +5.8 percent
● New Jersey: From $17,348 to $17,982, +3.7 percent
● Alaska: From $17,151 to $17,475, +1.9 percent
The new data also show that per-pupil funding continues to vary widely across the country. The following spent the most per-pupil overall in 2012:
● District of Columbia: $19,847
● New York: $19,396
● New Jersey: $17,982
● Alaska: $17,475
● Connecticut: $16,855
These states spent the least per-pupil overall in 2012:
● Utah: $6,441
● Idaho: $6,626
● Arizona: $7,382
● Oklahoma: $7,763
● Mississippi: $8,097