Since the Great Recession, most states are providing less per-student funding than before, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ survey of state budget documents over the last three months.
Michael Leachman, Nick Albares, Kathleen Masterson, and Marlana Wallace write for the Center that some states are continuing to cut budgets eight years after the recession was at its lowest point.
They say our country’s future is dependent on the quality of its schools, yet an increase in K-12 funding to hire and retain outstanding teachers, reduce class sizes, increase learning time, and offer expanded access to the best early-childhood education has not occurred – and that many states have these priorities turned inside-out.
Our next generation of workers and entrepreneurs will not be developed if these cuts continue, the authors argue. After adjusting for inflation, the Center’s most current information indicates that at least 31 states spent less in per student funding in the 2013-14 school year than in the 2007-08 school year, which was just before the recession. At least 15 states made cuts of over 10%.
In at least 18 states, local funding per student fell, and in 27 states local funding increased, but the increases, for the most part, did not make up for the reduction in state support. Total local funding declined between 2008 and 2014, which exacerbated the damage done by the state funding decreases.
Information about school funding for the current academic year is not available, but at least 25 states are spending less “general” or “formula” funding – the primary state funding source for schools – per student than in 2008. The cuts amount to over 10% in seven states.
Most of the states increased “general” funding per student this year, but 12 states enacted new cuts despite the improvement of the national economy. Some states, such as Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wisconsin, had already cut the deepest of any states since the recession struck.
The Center insists that restoring school funding is an urgent priority and that the steep cuts made at the state level have dramatic consequences. State support is a critical funding source for school districts, they say; since property values have fallen so sharply, local school districts have not been able to raise additional revenue from local property taxes.
Schools are still without 297,000 teaching slots that were cut in mid-2008 when the first recession-induced budget cuts occurred. These job removals reduced purchasing power of families and lessened consumption that the authors say slowed the recovery.
The reasons for states cutting K-12 funding are based on a variety of outside factors including weakened revenues, increased costs, and state level policies such as depending on spending cuts to make up for budget deficits and tax cuts.
States’ tax revenues have recovered slowly, and housing values remain below the peak before the recession. Federal assistance to high-poverty schools is down 11% and for disabled children it is down 9%.
At the same time, costs are rising since the recession because of inflation, changing demographics, and increased needs. Even if some school districts could divert funds from other service providers to increase budgets for schools, the action could damage other important organizations such as police departments and fire departments, they say.
The Center explained that these funding cuts will weaken the future workforce who depend on high-quality education and training.
At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, large cuts in funding for basic education undermine a crucial building block for future prosperity.