New Study Calls on States to Make Restoring School Funding Levels a Top Priority

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New Study Calls on States to Make Restoring School Funding Levels a Top Priority

For most states’ education budgets, the effects of the Great Recession are still detrimentally affecting school funding.  A report released on October 16, 2014, found that sixty percent of the 47 states included in its survey were providing less per-student aid for education today than they did in 2007-2008 (the “Report”).  The Report was released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (the “Center”), a non-partisan policy think-tank that focuses on policy matters that affect low and moderate income families and individuals.

Although the focus of the Report is on the trend of state funding cuts to education, the Center notes that the federal government and local governments are exhibiting the same behavior.  For example, since 2010, the federal government has reduced aid to high-poverty districts by 10 percent, and aid for disabled education by 8 percent.  Local governments, which primarily rely on their respective states for education funding, are hobbled in their efforts to fund education because of property values that remain below pre-recession levels for much of the country.   The Center posits that these findings have far reaching implications.

For example, the Center explains that, although the exact shares and funding formulas vary by state, on average, state funds account for more than 46 percent of total education spending.   Although many states increased their education budgets in 2014-2015 over the prior school year, in most cases the increases have been moderate and not nearly enough to make up for the steep cuts made in the aftermath of the Great Recession.  Indeed, 30 percent of the states in the survey still spend 10 percent less on per-pupil expenditures than they did in 2007-2008, and four states (Alabama, Arizona, Idaho and Oklahoma) have education funding levels that are more than 15 percent below their spending in the same 2007-2008 period.

The Report notes that these funding cuts jeopardize reform efforts aimed at, among other things, improving teacher quality through recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers, reducing excessive class sizes, extending instructional time for students, and providing universal pre-kindergarten or pre-school programs.  According to the Center, it is not only the students who stand to suffer from these spending cuts, but also the broader economy and society.  The Center asserts that, in the short-term, state budget cuts have caused the pace of economic recovery to stagnate and, in the long-term, the spending cuts may have the practical effect of not producing enough well-educated workers to meet the demands of an increasingly technological and complex global economy.

Despite the general trend of decreased state education spending in the post-recession era, there was some moderately positive news that emerged from the Report.  Seventeen states are currently spending, on average, $350 more on per-pupil expenditures today than they were in 2007-2008.  One state, Ohio, only increased its per-pupil spending by $13. On the other end of the spectrum, Alaska leads the pack with an increase of $1,351 in per-pupil spending.  North Dakota was the only other state to increase its per-pupil spending by four figures.  The Center makes clear that other states need to follow suit.

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