A new report on public school funding across the country finds that most states are now providing less support per K-12 student than before the 2007-2009 Great Recession — and that some states continue to cut funding.
The report, published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research and policy institute, cites what it says is the most current available data on state and local funding and finds that, after adjusting for inflation:
- At least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year (that is, the school year ending in 2014) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold. In at least 15 states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.
- In at least 18 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period. In at least 27 states, local funding rose, but those increases rarely made up for cuts in state support. Total local funding nationally ― for the states where comparable data exist ― declined between 2008 and 2014, adding to the damage from state funding cuts.
- While data on total school funding in the current school year (2016) is not available, at least 25 states are still providing less “general” or “formula” funding ― the primary form of state funding for schools ― per student than in 2008. In seven states, the cuts exceed 10 percent.
- Most states raised “general” funding per student slightly this year, but 12 states imposed new cuts, even as the national economy continues to improve. Some of these states, including Oklahoma, Arizona and Wisconsin, already were among the deepest-cutting states since the recession hit.
Here’s a state-by-state chart (with a handful of states not included because of lack of data; see footnote to chart):
Among the consequences of K-12 state-level spending are, the report says:
- Weakening a key funding source for school districts. About 46 percent of K-12 spending nationally comes from state funds (the share varies by state). Cuts at the state level force local school districts to scale back educational services, raise more local revenue to cover the gap, or both. And because property values fell sharply after the recession hit, it has been particularly difficult for local school districts to raise significant additional revenue through local property taxes without raising tax rates, a politically challenging task even in good times.
- Slowing the economy’s recovery from the recession. School districts began cutting teachers and other employees in mid-2008 when the first round of budget cuts took effect, federal employment data show. By mid-2012, local school districts had cut 351,000 jobs. Since then, they have restored some of the jobs but are still down 297,000 jobs compared with 2008. These job losses reduced the purchasing power of workers’ families, weakening overall economic consumption and, thus, slowing the recovery.
- Impeding reforms widely acknowledged to boost student achievement. Many states and school districts have identified as a priority reforms that would better prepare children for the future, such as improving teacher quality, reducing class sizes and increasing student learning time. Deep funding cuts hamper their ability to implement many of these reforms. For example, while the number of public K-12 teachers and other school workers has fallen by 297,000 since 2008, the number of students has risen by about 804,000. At a time when producing workers with high-level technical and analytical skills is increasingly important to a country’s prosperity, large cuts in funding for basic education could cause lasting harm.